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Focus on: Cervical Health

January 10, 2014

Morrisville – With each New Year comes many resolutions; many of which are geared towards health and wellness. Copley Hospital encourages you to let one of those resolutions be about cervical health – an issue that is often overlooked. January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month. This month-long recognition provides healthcare providers an opportunity to promote awareness about how women can protect themselves from human papillomarvirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.

Approximately 79 million Americans currently have HPV, the most common sexually transmitted virus that affects both females and males. HPV may not show any signs or symptoms. That means a person with HPV can transmit the virus without knowing it. While most types of HPV are harmless and go away on their own, there are some types that are considered high risk and can cause cervical cancer. HPV transmission has been shown to be reduced with the HPV vaccination.

“Well-woman visits are important for prevention and early detection,” says Jackie Bromley, a certified nurse midwife with The Women’s Center at Copley Hospital. The annual visit includes a pelvic exam and a clinical breast exam (CBE). “And pap tests can help detect changed or abnormal cells before they turn into cancer.”

Bromley explains that screening guidelines for pap tests have changed. Depending on your age and previous test results, pap tests with or without HPV co-testing can be done every 3 to 5 years; what is key is that they be done regularly. The American College of Gynecology recommends for low risk women:

  • Women should start getting regular pap tests at the age of 21
  • Women age 21-29 should be screened every 3 years
  • From age 30 through 65, screenings should be every 3-5 years
  • After age 65, screenings will depend on past results; if you’ve had 3 consecutive negative pap test results, there is no need for further screenings
  • Women who have had positive results should continue being screened

The College, along with the American Cancer Society and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, continues to recommend Clinical Breast Exams (CBE) every one to three years for women ages 20–39. The College recommends annual CBE and annual mammograms for women age 40 and older.

Cervical cancer is slow to develop, beginning with a precancerous condition called dysplasia. When left undetected and untreated, dysplasia can advance into cervical cancer. Symptoms you should be aware of include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Menstruation that lasts longer than a woman’s normal pattern
  • Bleeding following menopause
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Unusual discharge

If you are experiencing symptoms, make sure to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or gynecologist or certified nurse midwife to undergo further testing.

The Women’s Center at Copley provides complete personalized gynecological and obstetric care for every stage of a woman’s life. The team consists of OB/GYNs Anne Stohrer, MD and Will Ellis, MD with Certified Nurse Midwives Jackie Bromley, Kipp Bovey and Marje Kelso. For more information visit www.copleyvt.org/medical-services/gynecologyobstetrics/