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    Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Is Needed

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | January 21st, 2024

    Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Is Needed

    Every time I meet someone who has not had a pap smear for over five years, who is hesitant about getting the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, who is wondering why she is not getting a pap smear every year, or who thinks they have cervical cancer but had a precancerous lesion, I realize the importance of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. The theme this month is LEARN. PREVENT. SCREEN.

    LEARN

    Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs at the opening of the uterus, which is the cervix. The cervix goes through changes before it becomes cancer. These changes are known as dysplasia or precancer. We can find these changes early before the cervix turns into cancer. This is why we perform pap smears. If we treat the cervix when they are at this stage, we can prevent cancer.

    The warning signs of cervical cancer are vaginal bleeding after sex, vaginal bleeding after menopause, vaginal bleeding between periods, vaginal discharge that is watery with odor and contains some blood, or pelvic pain or pain during sex. If you have any of these symptoms, it is essential to see a healthcare provider. It may not be cancer, but we need to make sure.

    PREVENT

    Since we know that cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), if we find a way to prevent HPV, we can find a way to prevent cervical cancer. The best tool we have is the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine is approved for ages 9 to 45 years old. If you get the vaccine before age 15, you need only two doses six months apart. If you are 15 years and older, then you will need three shots: one now, then two months later, and then four months after the second dose. I would like you to get it at the scheduled time. If you miss doses, you can still complete the series from where you left off. 

    Not smoking is another way to prevent cervical cancer. Tobacco loves HPV. If you stop smoking, you can reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

    Since HPV is considered a sexually transmitted infection, using condoms during sex helps with the prevention of cervical cancer.

    SCREEN

    The screening tests we have are the pap smear and the HPV tests. A pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. It is done at the time of the pelvic examination. We start at the age of 21 years to perform pap smears. If the pap smear is negative, then we can repeat the pap smear in 3 years. When you reach 30 years old, we perform both a pap smear and HPV testing. If both the pap smear and HPV are negative, your next pap smear and HPV testing will be in five years. If the pap smear is abnormal and/or the HPV test is positive, you might need additional testing, and you will get a pap smear more often than every three years.

    Do not delay getting your pap smear. If you do not have insurance, please click HERE to see where you can go.

    Back to where I started:

    Hesitant about getting the HPV vaccine – This is the only vaccine so far that can prevent cancer-related to HPV. Cancer related to HPV includes cervical cancer, anal cancer, throat cancer, vulva cancer, and penile cancer. The HPV vaccine is for females and males. I cannot be hesitant about a vaccine that can eliminate cancer. I will give you some pushback if you refuse the HPV vaccine. Why would you be hesitant about a vaccine that prevents cancer?

    Not getting a pap smear every year – Since cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer, if your pap smear is negative, the chances of you developing cancer in three years are extremely rare. Since cervical cancer starts with a precancer, we will find the precancer before it becomes cancer. It is important to have a close follow-up if your pap smear is abnormal.

    Cervical cancer vs. precancer – they are different. If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you will most likely get a hysterectomy. If it is a precancer, we will remove the abnormal area with a loop electrosurgical excision procedure or LEEP. What is important is that you get close follow-up. Some of the people who develop cancer are those who had the precancer and did not follow up with their health care provider.

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    Secure Your Copy of Sincerely, Your Gynecologist by Dr. Ngozi Osuagwu.
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    With her trademark wit and straightforward communication, Dr. Osuagwu continues to dole out valuable medical advice using the letter form and addressing women’s health conditions and issues in a method that was praised for its innovative approach in her earlier award-winning book, Letters to My Sisters: Plain Truths and Straightforward Advice from a Gynecologist. In this book, each letter is paired with reference sources and statistics about the condition that is the subject of the letter.

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    Secure Your Copy of Letters to My Sisters by Dr. Ngozi Osuagwu.
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    The book discusses common gynecological and women’s health issues in a series of witty and entertaining letters. These letters, all educational, offer suggestions on what approaches to take in tackling the medical problems that typically bring women to an ob/gynecologist. The letters are spiced with art, a poem and quotes. Although its emphasis is on gynecology and women’s health, it touches on some other medical issues that make women visit their doctors.

    The second half of the book briefly discusses the most common gynecological conditions and also provides an overview of sexually transmitted infections. A list of annotated websites dealing with the different topics in the book is provided for the reader who wants to pursue each subject in depth.




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