A gynecological oncologist recently lamented that women often don’t come to see him until their cancers are very advanced. Because of the hesitancy to report symptoms occurring “below the waist” and the mistaken belief that gynecological cancers are associated with promiscuity, women are literally dying of embarrassment.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
According to the American Cancer Society, Cervical cancer can often be found early, and sometimes even prevented entirely, by having regular Pap tests. If detected early, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancers. Women should start getting Pap tests regularly at age 21. If your Pap test results are normal, your doctor may say you can wait three years until your next Pap test.
Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer. Girls and boys should get all three doses of HPV vaccine when they are 11 or 12 years old. However, if a teen or young adult (through age 26) has not started or finished the series of three HPV vaccine shots, it’s not too late.
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. So, don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Get regular screenings and pelvic exams.
Brooke Hildebrand Clubbs is the Director of Health Communication at Southeast Missouri State University.