By Dr. Sharad Ghamande
Gynecologic Oncologist, MCG Health System
Augusta, Ga. -- If you could do one thing and help prevent cancer, would you do it?
Since the late 1960s, Pap smears have been instrumental in reducing the
rate of cervical cancer. And according to the MCG Gynecological Cancer Prevention Center, these annual tests remain an essential part of a woman'scheckup.
Cervical cancer can happen to any woman. But it is preventable if women receive regular screenings through Pap smears. In general, it takes several years for cervical cancer to develop. If precancerous changes are detected through regular Pap smears, these can be easily treated. Ask your doctor if he or she performs the new liquid-based Pap smears, which have a higher success rate in detecting precancerous changes in the cervix.
The majority of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer have not had a Pap smear in four or five years. There are numerous reasons, one of which is that many young women feel they are not at risk for cervical cancer.
But consider the analogy of the tip of the iceberg. Only a bit of the
iceberg may show above the water, representing the 14,000 women every year who develop cervical cancer. But below the water line, add another 50,000 women who have advanced precancerous cells. And below that, add an additional 3 million women who have abnormal Pap smears.
Because of this, the MCG Gynecological Cancer Prevention Center advises all women to make this annual checkup a priority. In particular, certain groups of women may be at greater risk for cervical cancer. These risk factors include:
- Human papillomavirus infection. There are many different strains of HPV, including Type 16 and Type 18, which more commonly cause cervical cancer. Ask your physician about tests that can detect these specific types of HPV infection.
- Having many sexual partners.
- Having initial sexual intercourse at a young age.
- Oral contraceptive use.
- Weakened immune system.
Signs of cervical cancer include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge,
pelvic pain, and post-coital pain or bleeding. But don't wait until signs
develop! Remember, early detection usually means a better prognosis.
For more information, please visit www.MCGHealth.org.