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by Dr. Emily S. Minderman, MD

Cervical Cancer Awareness

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness MonthCervical cancer was a common disease in women in the past, but routine Pap smear screening has reduced the incidence of cervical cancer dramatically. A well-woman visit is a great opportunity for a female patient and their Ob/Gyn provider to review her health, conduct screenings, and discuss preventive health care steps. Since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, this article will discuss facts you should know about cervical cancer and the importance of screening and its protocols.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects with vagina. Various strains of HPV (Human papillomavirus) which is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) play a role in causing most types of cervical cancer. It is commonly seen in women who smoke and those who engage in high-risk sexual activities. Other risk factors are multiple sexual partners, early sexual activity, a weak immune system, and having other STIs.

Following exposure to HPV, the immune system fights the virus. However, in a small percentage of females, this virus may survive for years, later converting the cervical cells into cancer cells. The symptoms of cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding following intercourse, intermenstrual bleeding, heavy vaginal discharge which may be bloody with a foul odor, pelvic pain, or pain during intercourse. HPV infection, however, has no symptoms.

A female can reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer by getting screening tests and by receiving the HPV vaccine which protects against HPV infection. Pap smear tests can help to detect cervical cancer and precancerous cells that can develop into cervical cancer. If the test is abnormal a biopsy will be performed, where a sample of cervical cells are obtained during the colposcopic examination.

Over the past decade, considerable changes have occurred in Pap smear screening recommendations.

Latest Recommendations for Pap Smear

  • Start the screening at the age of 21 years.
  • It should be done once every 3 years.
  • Following a Pap smear, if abnormal cells are found, an HPV test will be performed to exclude HPV infection.
  • Alternatively, a woman over 30 years old can collect a Pap smear with HPV testing every 5 years.
  • Those above 65 years old, who have had regular Pap smears in the last 10 years with normal results and without a history of cervical cancer or precancerous stages within the past 25 years can stop cervical cancer screening.
  • Patients who underwent total hysterectomy (removal of uterus and cervix) should stop screening, unless it was done as a treatment for cervical cancer. Females who had a hysterectomy without removal of their cervix should continue cervical cancer screening according to the guidelines.

Although the Pap smear screening is recommended every 3 years, it doesn’t mean that annual well-woman visits are not necessary. The Gardasil vaccine prevents some types of HPV infection.

The Benefits of Visiting a Well-Woman Clinic

It is recommended that all females over 21 years should visit a well woman clinic. The benefits include:

  • Getting an opportunity to discuss minor problems and routine testing protocols.
  • Discuss emotional and sexual health.
  • Getting advice regarding hormone replacement and birth control.
  •  Vaccination.
  • Checking blood pressure.
  • Examination of breast, abdomen, pelvis, rectum and thyroid or any other indicated region in the body.

These examinations are very important and most often these cancers are first diagnosed at annual well-woman visits. It is important to note that although the incidence of cervical cancer has decreased, the other cancers like breast, ovarian, uterus and thyroid cancers are still common in women.

These guidelines are important for all patients who visit our clinic and we encourage them to adhere to these guidelines. Our Ob/Gyn clinic for women’s health provides unparalleled health care for our patients, empowering them to improve their health and wellness. Since January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we recommend all females to follow these guidelines regarding cervical cancer screenings.

Dr. Emily S. Minderman, MD has been practicing medicine since 2001 and is one of the founding physicians at Kansas City ObGyn. Women choose Dr. Minderman to be their ob/gyn because she is a compassionate, attentive listener, who truly enjoys getting to know each of her patients. She is proudly the mother of two.