Hello Mom Community. This month our theme is focused on Mom Maintenance, and we’ve been discussing all things related to your reproductive health. We also started the series “Getting to Know You” dedicated to empowering women through education about a woman's body. Part II of this blog series featured Cervical Cancer: Understanding the Basics and today we take a step further to talk with you about what YOU can do to prevent this disease.
DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be all-encompassing and should not replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health. This blog may contain images that are considered graphic but they are used for the sole purpose of informative education.
Recap the Basics
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide.
Cervical cancer develops in women who are in their reproductive years and is most commonly diagnosed in women in their 30s and 40s.
Early on, cervical cancer may not have any signs of symptoms.
The HPV virus is associated with 99.7% of all cervical cancers.
80 million Americans (mostly 20-30’s) are infected with HPV.
Routine screening is critical to identify the early stages of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer screening includes a Pap Smear +/- testing for HPV.
Do you know what the inside of your vagina looks like?
© 2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. [Beautiful Cervix Project]
Here is the Cervix located on the posterior aspect of the vagina!!
Understanding the Pap Smear
What is a Pap Test?
During a routine gyn exam a pelvic exam is performed YEARLY to inspect your internal and external lady parts. The pap test is NOT done yearly (unless suggested by your healthcare provider) and is a screening tool used to evaluate abnormal cell growth on your cervix. The cervix is the reproductive organ that connects your uterus to your vagina. It is “BEST KNOWN” for dilating during labor and being able to help you deliver a baby vaginally. The cervix has many other important functions but unfortunately it also contains cells that may be inhabited by the virus HPV that causes cervical cancer. The pap test is used to evaluate the cervix for abnormal cell growth that may lead to cancer.
What happens during the pelvic and pap test? You will get undressed from the waist down or may be asked to fully undress if an entire physical exam will be performed. You will put on a gown or wear a sheet over your pelvis. You will lie on an examination table and you will place your feet in stirrups. The pelvic exam consists of an inspection and examination of the pelvis with the use of a speculum and a bimanual exam. The speculum instrument is inserted into the vagina and opens to visualize the cervix. Your healthcare provider will use a small brush, swab, or spatula to gently remove cells from the cervix, and then send those cells off to be evaluated for abnormal growth. This same sample can be used to evaluate for HPV as well. The provider then completes the exam by performing a bimanual or digital exam (two fingers are inserted into the vagina) to feel for any concerning signs of your internal organs.
How often do I get tested?
This is a tricky one to explain because it's age dependent and history dependent. All pap smears screening should take place starting at the age of 21 regardless if you have had intercourse before. (This is a change from when many women were younger and the age of the first pap was the age of your first onset of intercourse). If you have normal testing, then your pap may occur every 3 years. If you have a pap smear over the age of 25 AND you were also tested for HPV at the time of the pap smear, AND your test is normal, then you need a pap smear with HPV testing every 5 years.
Although you do not receive a pap smear every year, many studies have shown that a YEARLY well-woman exam including a full physical with a breast and pelvic exam is a necessary part of your overall health maintenance.
There are 9 million people in America who will NOT clear the virus and may be at risk for cervical cancer.
What if my pap smear comes back abnormal? If you have an abnormal pap smear or you test positive for HPV you may need further testing. Sometimes the recommendation for an abnormal result is to screen more frequently than every three years. Sometimes abnormal findings such as an abnormal pap with positive HPV will result in the need for an in office examination/procedure called a colposcopy. A colposcopy is a two step process. First it involves taking a closer look at the cervix using a colposcope, which is a fancy way of saying a microscope that instead of pointing down can be aimed specifically at your cervix and allows your provider to potentially view abnormal cells. The second part may involve obtaining biopsies from the cervix.
How can I prepare for my Pap Smear? There is not much you need to do to prepare for the pap smear as they are relatively uncomplicated:
Yes, it is okay to be on your period during your pap smear. Try to avoid if you have a heavy flow or you are scheduled during the heaviest days of your cycle as blood may influence the test results.
Avoid intercourse for 24-48 hours prior to pap.
Avoid any vaginal medications or spermicides for 48 hours.
Avoid douching (you should be avoiding anyway).
Tell your healthcare provider if you have any history of trauma or if you have had bad experiences in the past.
Relax, take deep breaths, “go to your happy place,” or distract yourself during the exam.
What is HPV? It is a very common sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus. It has affected more 80% of the world's population. Recent data shows 79 million Americans have HPV. Fortunately 80-90% of the population will clear the virus naturally.
You may be tempted to say to yourself, “oh great, I will just let my body do its thing and clear it on its own.”
There are 9 million people in America who will NOT clear the virus and may be at risk for cervical cancer. HPV is transmitted through sexual activity and most commonly spread through vaginal or anal sex. Most people who carry HPV will experience no symptoms at all. The high risk strains of the virus are responsible for 99% of cervical cancer.
What can I do to reduce my risk of cervical cancer?
Routine Well Woman Exams
Pap Smear and HPV testing
Stop Smoking or Don't Start
Limiting the Number of Sexual partners
HPV Vaccine? If you heard from your health care provider about a vaccine that could prevent breast cancer do you think people would be lining up at their doctor's office in herds? Of course they would! The HPV vaccine could prevent up to 90% of cervical cancers yet recent studies have shown that most women are apprehensive about receiving the HPV vaccine because this cancer is related to a sexually transmitted disease. To learn more about the HPV vaccine click HERE.
Take charge of your life! Get vaccinated today!
For further information, check out the following resources:
Please follow and continue learning more about your body over the next few months as we target each “Lady Part”!
If you have topics or specific questions about your reproductive organs, please email huddleupmoms@gmail and we will do our best to incorporate your questions into our blogs/content.