• Family health care, 
including diagnosis 
and treatment of major 
and minor illness
    Family health care, including diagnosis and treatment of major and minor illness
  • Family health care, 
including diagnosis 
and treatment of major 
and minor illness
    Family health care, including diagnosis and treatment of major and minor illness

What women need to know about cancer and their sexual health

January 22nd, 2015

January is Cervical Cancer Screening Month

A woman being proactive about her health - especially down there - is not only important, but can also be life-saving.

January has been named as Cervical Cancer Screening Month. Cervical cancer is a disease where cancerous cells begin to grow in the cervix, or lower part of a woman’s womb or uterus caused by a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. HPV is spread through sexual contact. While HPV can sometimes go away on its own, it can lead to genital warts (if it is a low risk virus strain), or cancer (if it is a high risk virus strain) of the cervix, vulva or vagina.

 

Often cells in the cervix that have had HPV infections have a transition stage, into which they develop as “pre-cancer” cells. Some women never develop cancer, while for others it can turn into cancer within a year’s time. And a woman may never know that cancer is beginning to develop until it starts to spread. There are virtually no signs of it.

“Pain is usually not involved,” Sun Life Center for Women’s Virginia Savala, DO, said.

Indications that cervical cancer may be present and spreading from the cervix to surrounding tissue are painless, intermittent vaginal bleeding (even for postmenopausal women), having longer or heavier menstrual bleeding than usual, or bleeding/pain after intercourse.

That is why regular screenings are vital to catching it early, and enacting immediate treatment. Doing pap smear tests are the method of choice by OB/GYN doctors in screening for cervical cancer, because of its ability to successfully identify the presence of an HPV infection.

“The pap smear is the single most effective screening tool ever invented,” Dr. Susan Stein, MD, with Sun Life’s Center for Women, said.  “Very few women in America get cervical cancer. Having regular pap smear screenings decreases the development of cervical cancer by 70 percent.”

Most women starting at age 21 are recommended to be screened every three years. Women over 30 may be able to wait longer between screenings, unless they have certain lifestyle risk factors. Cervical cancer is not associated with family history. Being sexually active is a risk factor, especially if either you or your partner have had numerous partners. If a woman also smokes, it increases her risk of developing cervical cancer. If any of those risk factors apply for a woman, or she has had a history of abnormal pap smears, she should have talk with her OB/GYN doctor about conducting annual screening exams.

Same sex female partners are also recommended for screening, especially if either woman has had a male sexual partner in the past.

“And if they use toys in the bedroom, they should have a pap smear done, because the HPV virus can be spread that way, as well,” Dr. Savala explained.

Besides regular screening, women’s health providers suggest that one way to avoid contracting HPV and therefore prevent cervical cancer is to have protected sex. There has also been a recent development of a vaccine for HPV for both men and women.

“The HPV vaccine is very effective in protecting against the two most common strains of high-risk
HPV and low-risk HPV,” Dr. Stein explained.

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