cancer prevention

Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group of Santa Rosa Focuses on Cervical Health Awareness Month

Dr. Lela Emad offers hope for women concerned about cervical cancer risks, and shares important tips for staying healthy.

Healthy Women January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and there’s good news for the 13,000 women in the United States who are expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year; early detection increases the 5-year survival rate for women with invasive cervical cancer (the worse-case scenario) by up to a whopping 92 percent. “To catch it early, a woman must get screened annually,” explains Dr. Lela Emad OB/GYN, “This is an important factor for the four out of five women who do not receive routine check-ups that includes a Pap Test.”

What is cervical cancer

At one time, cervical cancer was the most prominent cause of cancer death for American women. But, thanks to early detection and new treatment options developed over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has been cut in half. The real hero in this story is a simple test most women are very familiar with; the Pap test. This screening procedure makes it possible for healthcare professionals to catch minute changes in the cervix well before it has a chance to develop into cancer. Pap tests can also find cervical cancer early – when it is in its most curable stage – giving women with a positive diagnosis an even better chance of beating the disease.

The latest statistics from the American Cancer Society estimates that in the United States;

  • About 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed
  • About 4,210 women will die from cervical cancer

What causes cervical cancer?

The vast majority of both women and men will become infected with the Human papillomavirus or HPV at some point during their lifetimes and HPV is found in about 99 percent of cervical cancers cases. Although most HPV infections are benign and disappear on their own, some persist. Of the more than 100 different types of HPV most are considered low-risk and do not lead to cervical cancer. But some high-risk HPV strains persist to cause cervical cell abnormalities and go on to develop into cancer. The two types of the virus HPV-16 and HPV-18 are consider the most high-risk HPV strains.

Who gets cervical cancer

Most cases of cervical cancer are found in women between the ages of 20 and 50, and even women who have entered into menopause may still be at risk. About 20 percent of all cervical cancers are found in women over the age of 65. Cervical cancer rarely occurs in women who have received routine screenings for the disease during the years before they turned 65. In the United States, Hispanic women are most likely to get cervical cancer, followed by African-Americans, American Indians and Alaskan natives, and whites. Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest risk of cervical cancer in this country.

What is cervical cancer?

Cancer initiates in the body when otherwise normal cells begin to grow out of control, and it can affect any part of the body and even spread to other areas of the body. Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix — the lower part of the uterus (womb). Although cervical cancers start from cells in the pre-cancerous stages, only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will go on to actually develop cancer. It normally takes a number of years before cervical pre-cancer turns into full blown cervical cancer, but it can happen in less time in some women. For most women, pre-cancerous cells resolve on their own without any treatment. But, treating all cervical pre-cancers can prevent almost all cervical cancers.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

Symptoms of the more advanced disease have been known to include abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, and/or unusual vaginal discharge. Abnormal bleeding symptoms outside of regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse or douching and bleeding after a pelvic exam can be symptoms of cervical cancer as can bleeding after menopause. Other symptoms include pelvic pain not related to the menstrual cycle, heavy or unusual discharge, increased urinary frequency and pain during urination. Of course, these symptoms could also be signs of other health problems not related to cervical cancer, but the best way to find out is to talk to a healthcare provider.

Prevention

Precancerous cervical cell changes and early cancers of the cervix generally do not cause any unusual symptoms. For this reason, routine screening through Pap and HPV tests is the best way to catch precancerous cell changes early, thereby preventing the development of cervical cancer.

“Pap test screening is obviously the first line of defense against cervical cancer,” says Dr. Emad. “We recommend Pap tests for women on a semi-annual basis after turning 21.” Regular gynecological Pap tests are the best way to detect most abnormal cell changes due to HPV well before they become cancer.

“Early detection of precancer cells makes it possible for a woman to be effectively treated before it becomes malignant, but unfortunately not every woman in committed to receive a regular Pap Test. This needs to become a priority for every woman, and particularly those who are intent on staying healthy.”

About Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group

Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group offers comprehensive testing with the latest available technology to screen for a full-spectrum of diseases and symptoms, and to monitor conditions as they develop in order to maximize patients’ health and well-being. The Women’s OB/GYN Medical Group strives to better the lives of all women with a holistic approach to women’s health. Visit the website to learn more or call 707-579-1102 to schedule an appointment.