A mother in her 40s recently came into my office. An abnormal Pap smear prompted a biopsy, which detected cervical cancer. She soon will have surgery.
Luckily for her, we caught the cancer at an early stage. Just as fortunate for her, a routine screening was responsible for producing the abnormal Pap smear. Her prognosis is good.
As this patient illustrates, the importance of screening for gynecologic cancers cannot be overstated - and with September being Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, I thought it would be useful to go over a few pointers about this vital aspect of women’s health.
Unfortunately, there are not effective screening tests for the two biggest gynecologic cancers, endometrial and ovarian. So pay heed to the symptoms (see accompanying story).
As for cervical cancer, Pap smears remain a reasonable screening test. According to new recommendations, women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a Pap smear every three years, and women ages 30 to 65 should get a PAP smear and undergo an HPV test every five years.
The birth control pill has been shown to be effective when it comes to reducing the risk of getting endometrial or ovarian cancer. And women are at more risk of these cancers if there is a history of breast or ovarian cancers in their family.
A woman who is not sexually active has virtually no risk of getting cervical cancer. Those who are sexually active can reduce their chances of getting cervical cancer by being vaccinated against HPV. This vaccine, which can be given to girls as young as 11, has not come without controversy. Many parents believe the vaccine will encourage their daughters to become sexually active. Studies show, however, that the vaccine is working.
It’s important for women who have been diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer to see a specialist – a gynecologic oncologist. Surgery frequently is a component of gynecologic cancer care, and the Hoag Women’s Health Institute specializes in minimally invasive gynecologic surgery with the aid of robotics for early cancers of the ovary as well as endometrial and cervical tumors.
But it all starts with prevention, and with early screening.
September may be back-to-school month, but for women, it also should be back to basics – and making sure they’re taking the best care of their health as possible.
- Dr. John V. “Jeb” Brown is a gynecologic oncologist and medical director of minimally invasive gynecologic surgery at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian.
To view the original Orange County Register article, please click here.