January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month–the perfect opportunity for women to start 2021 thinking about screening, prevention, and getting their overall health exams back on track.
“2020 has been a rough year all around and we fear many women may have put off important health screenings due to COVID-19,” says Erin Goins, Director of Women’s Health Services at Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber (CSSMCW). Also, Goins sees 2021 as the time to help women connect all the areas of female health.
Starting this month and continuing throughout the year, CSSMCW is promoting “Screen ONE Screen ALL,” a campaign for women to schedule an appointment with their gynecologist to discuss any symptoms or concerns and then check off the screenings that are recommended according to CDC guidelines.
”Cervical, ovarian, uterine, and breast health should all be viewed as equally important,” says Dr. Greg Whorral of Windber GYN Associates. “We want women of all ages to understand that there is comprehensive care for them here in Windber, starting in their teens and staying with them throughout all the changes in their lives; including early pregnancy, after child birth, and before and well after menopause.”
Goins adds, “We want to promote that women know their bodies and what’s normal for them. If they get that ‘gut’ feeling that something just doesn’t feel right, we encourage them to call immediately for an appointment to check it out. That’s why awareness months are so important. Often, it can be nothing and the patient has peace of mind. To be aware of symptoms of the female anatomy can help to open up a discussion with their doctor. Exams and screenings can catch an abnormality at an early stage that can be treated successfully.”
The Screen ONE Screen ALL campaign will cross over from the GYN office to the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center and back. Women who schedule their Pap test and gynecological exam will be assessed for their routine mammogram need and scheduled when it’s due. Likewise, women who come for their mammogram will be reminded to schedule their Pap test or gynecological exam whenever it’s due during the year. Goins says, “Our goal is to make sure that these important routine screenings don’t get overlooked for another year.”
Breast cancer gets the most recognition especially in October when pink reminders to get a mammogram are everywhere. However, uterine cancer is the most common of female cancers, ovarian cancer causes the most deaths, and cervical cancer is the most preventable. The prevalence of cervical cancer has been decreasing for many years.
The three-color ribbon is the awareness reminder to be screened for prevention of female cancers.
Every year in the US, nearly 300,000 women are diagnosed with cervical precancers that require treatment. Virtually all cervical cancer cases are linked to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted through intercourse or skin to skin contact. HPV itself is NOT cancer, and having HPV doesn’t mean you’ll get cancer.
About 80% of women carry HPV at some time in their lives and it just goes away as the immune system eliminates the HPV cells from the body. But sometimes HPV persists as an infection and the virus causes changes in healthy cells that become abnormal and can eventually lead to cancer. It can take about 10-15 years for cervical cells to change into cancer. That’s why routine screening is so important, catching and removing those abnormal cells before they become cancerous. Cervical cancer is the ONLY female cancer that has both a screening (Pap Test) and a vaccine making it the most preventable of all female cancers.
A Pap smear collects cells from the cervix which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. Dysplasia, or precancerous changes, refers to some sort of abnormal cells found in the cervix. Precancerous cells can be treated or removed, halting the possible development of them becoming cervical cancer cells.
Pap testing is recommended every three years from age 21-65, unless your doctor feels there are risk factors indicating that more frequent testing is appropriate. A Pap test may be combined with an HPV test, a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause cervical cancer.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. A common sign or symptom of more advanced cervical cancer is vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause. Also, any abnormal vaginal discharge or pelvic pain during intercourse can be symptoms that need to be addressed.
Those at greatest risk for developing cervical cancer are those with many sexual partners (including your partner’s number of sexual partners), as well as having had other sexually transmitted infections. A weakened immune system that can’t fight off HPV and smoking are also associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer. Also, a drug called DES which was used in the 1950’s place women who would be around the age of 70 or older at risk.
For the younger generation, a vaccine in now available that prevents HPV in both males and females.
Take the CDC gynecological cancer quiz on our website under Women’s Health or visit https://www.windbercare.org/GYNquiz/.
A vaccine for cervical cancer was first approved in 2006 and is recommended to be given to both males and females around age 11-12. HPV vaccination can prevent more than 90% of cancers caused by HPV from ever developing.
However in 2017, CDC data shows that only half of adolescent boys and girls received all the recommended doses of HPV vaccine, leaving them vulnerable to cancers caused by HPV. Some of the reasons parents give for not complying with the recommendation to vaccinate are:
While there is screening for cervical cancer, there is no routine screening for other types of HPV-related cancers so they are often not detected until they cause health problems.
The HPV vaccine can still be given even if it wasn’t given as a child. Young women and men who were not vaccinated as children can still receive the HPV vaccine up to around the age of 26. The vaccine protects against the nine types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate as a young adult.
Practice safe sex with the use of condoms and limiting sexual partners and don’t smoke. A routine Pap test can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix so they can be monitored or treated to prevent cancer. Routine Pap testing recommendation is to start around age 21 unless sexually active before then.
Children between ages of 9-14 receive two shots over a six-month period of time. If older than 15 to the age of 26, a three-shot vaccine may be recommended.
Gardasil 9 is now approved for men and women aged 27-45 who weren’t previously vaccinated.
HPV types that can cause cervical cancer may not show symptoms. The only way to know is to be screened. This January, talk to your doctor about HPV and cervical cancer screening.
About Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center
The Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center (JMBCC) opened in February 2002 offering comprehensive and personalized breast care in one convenient location. The JMBCC is exists to prevent and treat diseases of the breast and other conditions that can impact the lives of the women served. The tools and techniques used include digital mammography, ultrasound, breast biopsies, breast MRI, bone densitometry, genetic counseling, research studies, and a female breast surgeon on-site.
About Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber
Founded in 1906, Chan Soon-Shiong Medical Center at Windber (CSSMCW) is an independent, non-profit acute care hospital in northern Somerset County, bordering Cambria County. The 54-bed hospital shares a campus and collaborates with Chan Soon-Shiong Institute of Molecular Medicine at Windber (CSSIMMW), a private, non-profit biomedical research center. With more than 450 employees, CSSMCW is the fourth largest employer in Somerset County. CSSMCW’s mission is to provide excellence in personalized, quality health care services through innovation, research and education in response to community needs. For more information visit www.windbercare.org.