Protect yourself against this silent killer

“This is a disease you should not die of.”  Said Dr. Fri Mofor-Eta of cervical cancer.

Mofor-Eta is a OB/GYN practicing at Pleasant Valley Hospital. Women’s heath issues are her primary focus, and with January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, she recently addressed the disease.

Getting regular pap smears and receiving vaccinations against the HPV virus, when applicable, are two major weapons in the fight against cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is asymptomatic, which means there is very little warning or symptoms that alert a patient of its presence.

One of the major symptoms is bleeding with intercourse, though if this is occurring in relation to cervical cancer, the disease has typically already progressed to a dangerous stage. This is why testing via regular pap smears is so important when diagnosing and treating this silent but potentially dangerous disease.

Unlike some cancers, cervical cancer is a very preventable when detected early. It affects the lower part of the uterus or the cervix, usually as the result of infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV). For most patients, the progression of HPV infection to cervical dysplasia and then cervical cancer takes many years, making it possible for doctors to detect the disease while it is still pre-cancerous and prevent it from developing.

“A pap smear is your best defense,” Mofor-Eta said.

woman smiling

The American Cancer Society recommends cervical cancer screenings begin at age 21. It’s also recommended women between the ages of 21 and 29 should have a pap smear every three years and HPV testing is unnecessary in this age group unless one has received an abnormal pap smear result. Women between the ages of 30 and 65 should have a pap smear plus an HPV test every five years.

When it comes to the HPV vaccine, Mofor-Eta said she administers it to young women ages 9 to 26. She sees the vaccine as a “proactive” approach to better women’s health. The Food and Drug Administration has approved two vaccines to prevent cancer that can result in HPV infection before an abnormal pap smear develops.

As for risk factors for cervical cancer, Mofor-Eta said anything that makes an immune systems weakened, especially smoking, is a factor.

As for why women avoid that pap smear, Mofor-Eta said in some cases it’s because of access and other women feel the test is “invasive.” Mofor-Eta said in her office, a pap smear is obviously done in a private as well as “serene” environment to increase the patient’s comfort level.

“If you go to the doctor and have regular pap smear screenings, get vaccinated and refrain from smoking, then you are doing the necessary steps to prevent cervical cancer. We’ve made a lot of progress, but the main reason we still see cervical cancer is lack of regular medical care, either due to difficulty of access or because the patient doesn’t want to go. It’s important to have pap smears done at regular intervals to protect against any errors in detection.”

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