Cervical cancer ‘largely preventable’
If you want to avoid cervical cancer, get your annual check-ups and see a doctor regularly. That's was advice from a visiting obstetrician-gynaecologist who was on the island to speak to about cervical cancer.
Dr Natalie Sohn was here to talk with medical personnel at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. She has a private practice in West Palm Beach, Florida that is part of Tenet Florida Physician Services which is a network of physicians, hospitals and healthcare services. On Wednesday she talked about symptoms and signs doctors should not ignore.
“Most people who show up with cervical cancer typically having a lot of bleeding and haven't seen a doctor in many years,” she said. “I hear that over and over again. They often haven't had a routine check-up in years. Too often, patients end up in the emergency room with major bleeding episode.”
Doctors use a pap test, usually given at a woman's annual check-up, to look out for abnormal cells which could be a sign of cervical or uterine cancer. There is a good chance of a cure if these cancers are detected early.
The first sign of cervical cancer, that most women notice, is abnormal vaginal bleeding.
“Sometimes they may notice it for the first time after sex,” Dr Sohn said. “The bleeding might not be heavy, but come at the wrong time during a woman's menstrual cycle.”
The incidence of cervical cancer rises with age, and Dr Sohn said it is quite rare to see a patient under 30 years old with it, although she did have a 27 year old with it last year.
Having multiple sexual partners can increase the risk of cervical cancer, because there is an association between cervical cancer and the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV).
“Not all cervical cancer is associated with HPV,” Dr Sohn said. “There are different types of cervical cancer, but 80 to 85 percent is associated with HPV.”
She said while more and more women are choosing to be tested or vaccinated for HPV, most men don't receive testing or vaccination even though they can be carriers.
Smoking also increases your risk of developing cervical cancer. Women with compromised immune systems, undergoing chemotherapy, and or who have had organ transplants and are on lifetime immunosuppressant drugs are also at a higher risk for cervical cancer.
The good news is the incidence of cervical cancer has dropped 75 percent since the 1930s, due to screening.
“It is the only cancer that we have been very successful at decreasing the incidence,” Dr Sohn said. “Doctors are doing a great job. It is largely preventable. Get your pap tests and your HPV testing done. Admittedly, HPV testing is a whole other talk. If a woman has consistent examination, consistent pap tests, and HPV tests at appropriate intervals, the chances of her ever getting cervical cancer is extremely small because you are going to catch it most of the time with the pap test.”
The talk at KEMH was sponsored by Tenet Florida, and is part of the Bermuda Hospitals Board (BHB) mandate for continuing medical education.
For more information see www.cancer.org/cancer/%20cervicalcancer/index.