January Is Cervical Health Awareness Month
We cannot always take proactive steps to prevent serious illness. Sometimes such illnesses occur without any of the usual markers – poor lifestyle habits, genetics, or risk pool. However, in the case of cervical cancer, women have clear sources of prevention and awareness available.
In honor of Cervical Health Awareness Month, Pacific Family Practice strives to highlight the importance of attending annual well woman exams without fail, as well as symptoms to bring to your provider’s attention right away.
How can I prevent cervical cancer?
The purpose of an annual well woman exam is to screen for possible health issues. Your provider will perform a breast exam to screen for any abnormalities or changes from your last visit, a pelvic exam, and a pap smear (also known as a pap test). A pap smear determines whether precancerous or cancerous cells are present on the cervix, the opening of the uterus. Most women start to receive regular pap smears around age 21, though providers may recommend more routine screening earlier on occasion.
Another recommended form of cervical cancer prevention is the HPV vaccine, Gardasil. Gardasil is recommended for both men and women up to age 26, usually starting around ages 16-18. The HPV vaccine protects against strains of the human papilloma virus associated with cervical cancer. Over the course of six months, three shots are needed to fully complete the vaccination. Gardasil is safe, and those patients and/or their parents with questions are encouraged to contact Pacific Family Practice.
Why annual well woman exams can be challenging
Often, women will put off or avoid an annual exam because they find the experience uncomfortable or awkward. Sometimes, the appointment can resonate with more serious traumas, and women fear their provider will not understand their concerns. Pacific Family Practice is fully committed to ensuring every step of an annual exam meets your needs, including addressing your questions and concerns prior to a visit at our office. We encourage patients to reach out to our team directly, so we can help put you at ease and ensure that you know what to expect.
Am I at risk for cervical cancer?
Those at an increased risk for cervical cancer include:
- Those with HPV
- Those who use tobacco products
- Those with HIV
- Those who have/have had Chlamydia
- The obese
- Those with a family or personal history of cervical cancer
It is estimated that close to 13,000 women will face a cervical cancer diagnosis in the United States in 2018. A proactive approach that includes annual well woman exams as well as the HPV vaccine is an excellent starting point for prevention. Please discuss possible symptoms with your provider as soon as possible, including pelvic pain, abnormal menstruation such as heavy bleeding or spotting and abnormal discharge, and fatigue, nausea, and weight loss.