Health Female Adda
1 year ago
The Simple Thing Women Can Doâ€"but Aren'tâ€"to Prevent Getting Cervical Cancer

We get it: With everything you've got going on (like, say, a big work project eating up your days or a tiny human keeping you up at all hours of the night), you may have pushed monitoring your health to the bottom of your to-do list. And according to a new survey conducted by the Foundation for Women's Cancer and Genentech, a biotechnlogy corporation, you're not aloneespecially when it comes to your gynecological health. 

In the survey, released to coincide with Cervical Cancer Awareness Month—January—more than one-third of the 1,000 women asked said they aren't planning to see their gynos this year.

The reason why so many women skip out on the ob-gyn, among other M.D.'s, could be this: "Women are such wonderful caregivers to everyone else in their family that they often prioritize their own health last," says Sharyn N. Lewin, M.D., medical director, department of gynecological oncology at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey. In fact, 91 percent of the women surveyed said they priortize their kids' health over their own. (Interestingly, participants said they were more likely to hit up their hairstylists, dentists, eye docs, and primary care physicians for annual visits, although they weren't asked why that is.)

So why should you absolutely make an appointment with your ob-gyn this year? Going in for your routine women's health check-up is the best way to stay on top of cervical cancer prevention. According to the American Cancer Society, close to 13,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2015. It's linked to the human papilloma virus (HPV), and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost everyone who's sexually active will get the virus at some point, meaning you'll most likely be at risk for the disease one day. 

The good news is that since cervical cancer is slow-growing, says Lewin, it can be detected before it actually becomes cancer—that is, if you regularly visit your doc for screenings. "The pap smear is so important because we can detect abnormalities before there are any symptoms," says Lewin.

That being said, Lewin notes that there is some confusion about pap smears, since the The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists changed the guidelines back in 2014. (If you're between the ages of 21-29, it's now recommended that you get one every three years, while those ages 30-65 should be screened every five years.) Still, "regardless of how often a woman needs a pap smear, she really needs to see her ob-gyn every year so that she can talk about cancer prevention and talk about healthy lifestyles," says Lewin. 

"The pap smear is so important because we can detect abnormalities before there are any symptoms."

Once symptoms appear—the biggest ones to be aware of are abnormal bleeding and discharge, pain during sex, and general pelvic pain—that means the cancer is already advanced. "If detected early, there are some fertility-sparing procedures that can be performed, so if women want to preserve their uterus and have children, that's something they may be a candidate for," says Lewin. "Unfortunately, if it's detected late, then it requires treatment with radiation and chemotherapy."

The easiest way to cut your risk of developing cervical cancer is by getting the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, which is available for women and men from age 9 up to 26, since most women are exposed to the virus by then. What happens if you missed the boat? Lewin stresses going in for your yearly exam, getting regular pap smears, and using condoms to ward off the virus. Smoking can up your risk of cervical cancer, so if you haven't quit yet, this is another reason to. "Tobacco actually decreases a woman’s immune system, and the HPV virus loves to grow with a decreased immunity," says Lewin. 

The bottom line: No matter how busy you are, it's important to make time for your gynecological health. "We really shouldn’t have any cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. where we have such good screening tools like the pap smear, as well as the HPV vaccine," says Lewin. "I would encourage women to really feel empowered to go to their ob-gyn every year and to ask about their cancer risk and what they can do to help modify those risks."

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