Cervical cancer, which claimed about 4,250 lives in the United States in 2019, is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide. It is also one of the most preventable.
Affecting the cervix (the lower part of the uterus), cervical cancer can be detected early with the help of Pap smears, which have been proven to reduce deaths from cervical cancer by more than 40 percent. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition noted on their website that deaths from cervical cancer in the United States continue to decline by approximately 2 percent a year.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a pap smear is a procedure in which cells are gently removed from the cervix. These cells are then checked under a microscope to look for cervical cancer or cell changes that could lead to cervical cancer. Pap smears, which can also help detect infections or inflammation, can be done at the same time as a pelvic exam.
A common misconception related to cervical health is that Pap smears should only be done every three years. That is incorrect, said David Billings, MD, an Ob-Gyn with Trinity Health. “Yearly annual exams are appropriate for a breast and pelvic exam.”
After the initial Pap smear, which should be performed starting at age 21, women should get one every three years from between the ages of 21 to 29, unless recommended otherwise. Then, from age 30 to 65, testing is done every three years, or every five years when combined with human papillomavirus (HPV) screening. After the age of 65, women who do not have a high risk for cervical cancer should avoid screening.
During a pelvic exam, a doctor – usually an Ob-Gyn, midwife, or a women’s health nurse practitioner – evaluates a patient’s reproductive organs for any abnormalities. A pelvic exam can be part of a regular checkup or recommended if a patient has symptoms such as unusual vaginal discharge or pelvic pain.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, cervical cancer tends to occur in women during midlife; it is frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. “It rarely affects women under age 20, and more than 15 percent of diagnoses are made in women older than 65,” the NCCC’s website stated. “But in women over 65, cancer typically occurs in women who were not receiving regular screening.”
Women who smoke are twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer, the American Cancer Society said. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include HPV infection – the most important risk factor – as well as having a weakened immune system, chlamydia infection, a diet low in fruits and vegetables, being overweight, a long-term use of oral contraceptives, intrauterine device (IUD) use, having multiple full-term pregnancies, being younger than 17 at your first full-term pregnancy, and having a family history of cervical cancer. Regarding family history, the American Cancer Society said that having a mother or sister that had cervical cancer increases the chances of a person developing the disease.
Trinity Health’s Ob-Gyn department includes: Heather Bedell, MD; Tim Bedell, MD; and Jennifer Johnson, MD, located at Health Center – Medical Arts, 400 Burdick Expressway E, Minot. For appointments, call 701-857-7397. Lori Dockter, PA-C, is also located at Health Center – Medical Arts. For appointments, call 701-857-5050. J. David Amsbury, DO, and midwives Jayme Burman, CNM, and Erica Riordan, CNM, are based at Health Center – Medical Arts. For appointments, call 701-857-7385.
David Billings, MD, is located at Health Center – Town & Country, Ste 101, 831 S Broadway. For appointments, call 701-857-7394.
Jessie Fauntleroy, MD; Margaret Nordell, MD; and Carol Schaffner, MD, along with midwife Gloria Berg, CNM, are located at Health Center – Town & Country, Ste 102, 831 S Broadway, Minot. For appointments, call 701-857-5703.