Southeast Georgia Health System Promotes Cervical Health Awareness
BRUNSWICK, Georgia: Jan. 7, 2020 – Every New Year, many women resolve to be proactive about their health, whether it be improving their diet, exercising more, or being more mindful about health screenings. It’s no coincidence, then, that Cervical Health Awareness Month falls in January. With nearly 13,000 women diagnosed annually, Southeast Georgia Health System encourages women to take the necessary steps to prevent cervical cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly half of the women diagnosed with cervical cancer never had a Pap test; another 10% hadn’t been tested within the past five years.
There’s no need to become a statistic. Cervical cancer from the human papillomavirus (HPV) is highly preventable. “Follow the screening guidelines and protect yourself against HPV by getting vaccinated. Make it part of your routine health care,” says Jason Joseph, M.D., chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Southeast Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus, and a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology.
The current Pap test guidelines are:
- Every three years starting at age 21. (Screening not recommended under 21.)
- Between ages 30-65, follow one of three options:
o A Pap test alone every three years
o A Pap and HPV test every five years
o After 65, stop screening if no history of abnormal cervical cells and if three consecutive tests or two co-tests were negative
If your cervix was removed during a hysterectomy, you can skip screenings, unless you’ve had precancerous lesions.
Understanding Abnormal Results
Depending on your results, you may need additional screenings or procedures. Don’t be alarmed. “An abnormal pap smear is usually related to an HPV viral infection that clears up in most people. Just have your doctor monitor it,” says Joseph. If you have HPV, you’re not alone. According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, approximately 75-80% of men and women are infected with HPV at some point in their lives.
According to Joseph, it takes HPV five to eight years to become cancerous. Symptoms such as bleeding, discharge or pain don’t appear until the later stages. “We can usually catch it early with regular screenings.”
Abnormal results may require a repeat Pap or a colposcopy (a biopsy of cervical tissue) for further testing.
Preparing for the Pap
There are things you can do to improve the accuracy of your Pap test:
- Schedule your appointment when you’re not menstruating. Reschedule if your period starts and will continue on your testing day.
- Avoid sex 48 hours before the Pap test.
- For 48 hours before the test, avoid douching, tampons or vaginal creams, foams, films or jellies.
Don’t Hesitate, Vaccinate
Men and women can protect themselves and their children from HPV by getting vaccinated, which is given in a series of shots. The Centers for Disease Control recommend:
- HPV vaccination for preteen girls and boys starting at age 11 or 12 years.
- HPV vaccination for females and males 13 to 26 years old who have not started the vaccines, or who have started but not completed the series.
For people age 27 and older, Joseph recommends they talk with their health care provider for more information. Although the vaccine is deemed safe, it is not likely to provide much, if any, benefit as people get older.
Joseph recommends more frequent Pap and HPV testing if you have any of these risk factors:
- History of high-grade cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells)
- Multiple sexual partners
- HIV positive
- Compromised immune system
Here are Joseph’s responses to some common misunderstandings:
- Women past child-bearing age don’t need a Pap. “People sometimes get new partners later in life. Protect your health by getting tested.”
- Women in same-sex relationships don’t need Pap or HPV tests or the HPV vaccine. “Not true. Follow your age group’s recommended guidelines.”
- I’m vaccinated against HPV. I don’t need a Pap. “Vaccinations help prevent, but don’t always eliminate HPV. Get regular screenings.”
To schedule an appointment with Joseph, call Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Obstetrics & Gynecology at 912-466-7250. To learn more about services provided at Southeast Georgia Health System, visit sghs.org.
About Southeast Georgia Health System
Southeast Georgia Health System is a not-for-profit health system comprised of two acute care hospitals, two long term care facilities, three immediate care centers, five family medicine centers and numerous employed physician practices. The Health System has multiple outpatient specialty care centers, including the only CyberKnife® M6 Program in the state of Georgia, and a Cancer Care Center accredited by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. For more information, call 855-ASK-SGHS (855-275-7447) or visit sghs.org. ###