Each year in the U.S. thousands of women die from cervical cancer.  Over 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and of that number, four thousand will leave behind friends, family and loved ones.  Thankfully, diagnosing and preventing cervical cancer is possible and many women go on to lead long healthy lives after a diagnosis.
The cervix is lowest portion of the uterus that connects it to the vagina.  Essential in its role for fertility, menstruation and pregnancy, the cervix is what “dilates to 10” when a woman gives birth.  The cervix is also responsible for protecting the female organs from bacteria and viruses that could damage the uterus or harm a baby during pregnancy.
Changes in the cells of the cervix are usually only detected through the use of a Pap smear.  The Pap smear is a typically painless exam where a doctor or trained health professional takes a scraping of cells from the cervix with a small brush and then examines the cells under a microscope.
While not all changes are cancer, there are some that could lead to cancer if untreated.  Many women have “dysplasia” or an abnormal development and growth of cells that is not cancerous.  In some cases these abnormal cells can be treated and removed to prevent complications in the future.
According to the National Institutes of Health, there are typically no symptoms of cervical cancer.  Vaginal discharges, bleeding or pain are often symptoms of infection or other complications that should be evaluated by your doctor.  Every woman should have a regular pap smear by age 21 or before depending on your health history.  Just because you can’t see your cervix, does not mean it can be ignored—treating cervical cancer can be highly effective if changes are caught early.  If you have a family history of cervical cancer, are a smoker, or have a history of sexually transmitted disease you should speak with your gynecologist to determine a screening schedule that is right for you.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends a pap smear every two years for most women.  If you take birth control, your physician will probably recommend a pap annually as a screening tool when it is time to get your pills refilled.  Many women dread their “annual exam”, but realizing the importance of keeping your body healthy and finding any problems that may arise early is extremely important—especially when you consider that you may never know there is a problem in the first place.
Dr. Hessel is a specialist in her field—she works with women every day who are facing cervical changes and works to develop a plan and treatment just for them.  You can rest assured that she will do the same for you too, so if you missed your appointment for the year, or it’s just time for a visit, click here and get scheduled to come in. Don’t let yourself become a statistic to cancer—fight back with the right doctor and the right screenings.