Thursday, December 5, 2013

Testing and Preventing Cervical Cancer

By Jessica Gill, MD  at UAB West

Being a woman isn’t easy. Any woman will tell you that. And with all the things that we deal with as we develop, it’s important to be aware of what we need to do to best care for our bodies and our health. We just recently had national breast cancer awareness month, but there’s another cancer that women should dedicate more attention to.

Cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is when irregular cells on the cervix grow at a dangerous rate. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Most of the time, cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus - you’ve probably heard it as HPV. HPV can live in your body for years without you realizing it. That’s why it is so important to regularly see your gynecologist and have a Pap smear exams performed.

A lot of people get turned off by the idea of a Pap smear, but two things on that: 1) it is not that bad, and 2) it is too important for your health to go without.

What happens with a Pap smear exam is that while you are on a table your feet are placed in stirrups, and a doctor or nurse places an instrument (a speculum) into your vagina to slightly open it. Cells are then gently scraped from the cervix area and sent to the lab.

No, it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world, but don’t be frightened by the ‘vision’ of it. The doctor and their team are highly trained and work to make it a comfortable environment for the patient.

A woman should begin having Pap smears at age 21, then every three years after, provided that there are no abnormal results. For the most part, cervical cancers develop slowly, and that time frame allows for enough time to make early detections.

While it does not need to replace the need for regular Pap smear tests, there is an HPV vaccine that can be administered to help offer protection from HPV.

It is series of three shots administered over a six month period, and is recommended to be given as early as 11 or 12 years of age. It is important to note that HPV vaccines are currently not recommended for adults older than 26.

The safety and effectiveness for those above that age has not yet been determined. The key here is to reduce your risk of cervical cancer, and the HPV vaccine in addition to regular Pap smear testing can do that.

Don’t avoid your gynecologist - remember, all the other girls have to see them, too. Stay on a regular routine with your testing, and realize that being a woman is a beautiful thing.

Best, Jessica Gill, MD - 
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