Proper Cervical Health Begins With Early Detection

St. George, UT — (ReleaseWire) — 02/07/2022 — In most aspects of medicine, the sooner you know, the better. Women’s health specialists at Intermountain Healthcare say this is especially true for medical problems that present few, if any, detectible early symptoms.

Like cervical cancer, for instance.

According to Dr. Kathryn Walker, MD, a member of Intermountain Medical Group specializing in obstetrics and gynecology at the Intermountain Women’s Health Center in St. George, Utah, cervical cancer is still the second most common cancer in females between the ages of 15 and 44. This is particularly a problem in underserved and uninsured populations who may not take advantage of preventative care such as annual gynecological screenings and regular Pap smears.

“Since the introduction of the Pap smear in the 1970s, the risk of cervical cancer has decreased significantly,” Walker said. “But some people are nervous about the screenings. It’s a sensitive, very personal and sometimes awkward exam for women. Yet even one Pap in your life decreases you risk of cervical cancer. Regular exams decrease that risk even more.”

Depending on the patient’s age and prior Pap exam results, it is generally recommended that women should be screened for cervical cancer via a Pap exam and/or HPV every 3 to 5 years respectively, beginning at age 21. However, patients are still encouraged to have an annual pelvic exam even on the years when a Pap test is not required.

“People get excited when they hear that you don’t need a Pap exam after age 65, but they still need to come in for breast and pelvic exams,” Walker said. It can be confusing if you are trying to remember which year you’re on, but if you’re coming in annually for a checkup, you and your provider can discuss the proper spacing of all the necessary tests.

For the most part, Walker said women in Utah are pretty savvy about staying on top of their cervical health. The continuity of gynecological care women receive from their provider of choice during the childbearing years may be at least part of the reason for that trend, she said.

Regardless of childbearing status, however, screening for cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer is an important part of a woman’s overall health routine, Walker said.

Even before a young woman is ready to have gynecologic exams, a way to prevent HPV related cancers (most cervix cancer is caused by HPV) is with the Papillomavirus vaccine, which is recommended for children age 9 and up.

“The HPV vaccine was first developed to prevent cervix cancer in women and was initially given to girls only,” said Vilija Avizonis, MD, chair of radiation oncology at Intermountain Medical Center. “It is now approved by the FDA for boys and girls and is very effective at preventing all HPV related cancers including cervix cancer, but also tonsil and tongue cancer, anal cancer and vulvar cancer.”

Because symptoms for cervical cancer such as discharge, pain, abnormal bleeding, change in bowel or bladder function, generally do not manifest until the cancer is more fully established — and can be indicative of many other less serious problems — prevention remains the best method of maintaining good cervical health.

There aren’t a lot of other things people can do to keep their cervix healthy, Walker said. It’s not like other aspects of health that will benefit from diet and exercise.

Even still, Walker said overall healthy habits could contribute to greater overall health, which will help the body function as it should.

About Intermountain Healthcare
Located in Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, Intermountain Healthcare is a nonprofit system of 25 hospitals, 225 clinics, the Intermountain Medical Group with some 2,700 employed physicians and advanced care practitioners, a health plans division called SelectHealth, Homecare, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information, see Intermountain Healthcare or the Intermountain Healthcare Blog.

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