Just 20 Minutes - Cervical Health

A 20-minute test performed once every 3 years could save the lives of thousands of women.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the world. Each year, it kills more than 4,000 women. “It doesn’t have to be that way,” says Eliza Newbury, DO, Primary Care Physician at McLaren Northern Michigan Family Medicine.

During January’s Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, McLaren reminds women that routine testing saves lives.“Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer,” Dr. Newbury said. “Deaths caused by this cancer continue to decline through the use of Pap tests.”

As Pap tests (also called Pap smears) have become more common and more accurate, cervical cancer deaths have dropped by about 2% each year. According to the National Cancer Institute, regular Pap screenings decrease cervical cancer deaths by at least 80%. “These tests detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment,” Dr. Newbury explains.

Women dramatically reduce their risk of cervical cancer when they begin getting Pap smears once every 3 years, beginning at 21 years old, according to guidelines from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Cervical Cancer Symptoms
One of the reasons Pap tests are so important is that cervical cancer causes very few symptoms in its early, most treatable stages. Generally, symptoms only appear once the disease is advanced.

Cervical cancer symptoms include:
• Bleeding between menstrual periods
• Bleeding after sexual intercourse
• Bleeding after douching
• Bleeding after a pelvic exam
• Bleeding after menopause
• Pelvic pain not related to your menstrual cycle
• Heavy or unusual discharge (i.e. water, thick or with a foul odor)
• Increased urinary frequency
• Pain during urination

Any of these symptoms could indicate other health problems and always warrant a visit to your healthcare provider.

Cervical Cancer Causes

In about 99% of all cervical cancers, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is present. But experts estimate 3 out of 4 Americans between 15 and 49 years old have had a genital HPV infection at some point in their lives. Most people exposed to HPV experience no symptoms and their body clears the virus with no issues. However, if it doesn’t clear the body, HPV can lead to genital warts or cancer. Both are preventable with early treatment.“Pap tests can also detect the HPV virus,” Dr. Newbury says.

Cervical Cancer Prevention

Each year, 13,000 Americans are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Like most cancers, treatment is most effective in its earliest stages. The easiest and most accurate way to detect precancerous symptoms is through a simple Pap test.

The HPV vaccine, typically administered between 11 and 26 years old, further reduces the risk. “Not only is the vaccine recommended for girls, but it is also strongly recommended for boys, to help prevent the spread of the virus even further,” Dr. Newbury says.

For more information or to schedule a Pap test, HPV vaccine, or routine visit, call McLaren Northern Michigan Family Medicine at 231-487-9355.