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    Let Us Eliminate Cervical Cancer

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | January 23rd, 2022

    Let Us Eliminate Cervical Cancer

    Over the weekend, I took an online course titled, Cervical Cancer Risk Associated with Various HPV Genotypes. I particularly chose this online course this month because January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.  One of the slides had the following:

    In 2021, there were an estimated 14, 480 new cases of cervical cancer in the United States. 4, 290 women will die from cervical cancer.

    I asked myself – how is this possible? CERVICAL CANCER IS PREVENTABLE AND WHEN FOUND EARLY IT IS CURABLE.  No one should be dying from cervical cancer. Dying from cervical cancer is a tragedy.  We have the tools and knowledge to eliminate cervical cancer. We just have to be willing to use the tools. WE are all part of the solution and it starts with each one of us.

    I want to make sure that everyone who reads this blog will never be diagnosed with cervical cancer. The World Health Organization rallied 194 countries to sign a commitment to eliminate cervical cancer. I am committed to making sure that you are aware of what needs to be done to make sure that none of us or our loved ones die of cervical cancer.

    What are the tools and what do you need to know?

    1. The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine – Most of cervical cancer is caused by the HPV. We have a vaccine that can protect against the HPVs that cause cervical cancer. The best time to get the vaccine is before you have been exposed to HPV. You are at risk of getting HPV when you have sex. The ideal time to get the vaccine is at age 11 – 12 years old, however insurance will cover up to age 26 years old. Although the vaccine has been approved up to age 45 years old, you might need to call your insurance company to find out if is covered. Although the vaccine is most effective before you have sex, you can still get protection if you fall in the age group that has been approved for the vaccine. Everyone you know who is between ages 11 – 26 years old should get the vaccine. This is the way that we protect our loved ones from getting cervical cancer or any cancer related to HPV which include anal, penile or throat cancer. The vaccine is for females and males.
    2. The pap smear  – If you are 21 years old or older, you need to get a pap smear. A pap smear is a screening test for cervical cancer. You do not need to get it every year if it is normal. Between ages 21 – 29 years old, you should get a pap smear at least every 3 years if the pap smear is normal. This means that when you get the pap smear, you must know your results. The majority of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are women who have never had a pap smear or women who had an abnormal pap smear result and did not follow up with their health care provider.  
    3. The HPV test – If you are 30 years old and above, you should get a pap smear and an HPV test. Not all doctors are doing both. Some might just do a pap smear which is an option, but I disagree. If you are 30 years and older, I am asking you to make sure that your doctor is obtaining  a pap smear and HPV testing. Ask for both. The HPV test is very sensitive and does make a difference. If both are negative, you can wait up to 5 years before getting another pap smear and HPV test. Waiting this long depends on your history and your results. Again, you must find out your results.
    4. Know your result – Following up on your result is important. If you have not heard about your result in 2 weeks, call your provider. If your results are abnormal, make sure that you understand next steps. DO NOT IGNORE an abnormal result.
    5. If you have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus with the cervix), you might not need a pap smear. It will depend on the reason why you had the hysterectomy, your pap smear history, and the pathology of the cervix that was removed. If your health care provider feels that you can stop getting pap smears, ask why and make sure that you get an explanation you understand.
    6. There has been some discussion that when you are over 65 years old, you might not need a pap smear anymore.  You should know that 20% of cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 65 years old. In order for you not to need a pap smear after age 65, you must know what your pap smear results were since your were age 55. If you do not know, then you need to get the pap smear and HPV testing. If your health care provider chooses not to obtain a pap smear from you because of your age, you must ask why and make sure you understand the reason.
    7. If you have been treated for pre-cancer or cancer of the cervix, you need to be monitored for at least 25 years very closely.
    8. If you have any abnormal uterine bleeding, bleeding with intercourse, or bleeding after menopause, please see notify your health care provider.
    9. Most people have postponed getting their annual well woman exam because of COVID, but please make sure that you are up to date with your pap smear
    10. If you are immunocompromised, you might need to get more frequent pap smear. Talk with your health care provider.

    Lack of insurance should not prevent you from getting a pap smear. You can get a screening pap smear for free or at a low cost with the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.

    The way we are going to eliminate cervical cancer starts with each one of us. I hope that you are up to date with your pap smear. Remember that up to date includes knowing your results.

    2 Responses to “Let Us Eliminate Cervical Cancer”

    1. Linda K Jackson says:

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for such invaluable information! Often, only half the “story” is told, as well as women not knowing that they have the right to question their physicians.

    2. Thank you!!! I agree that ignorance is not bliss!

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