Mahaska Health Partnership Recognizes Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month
Mahaska Health Partnership OB-GYN Specialist Jeffrey Fowler, DO, urges women to get regular screenings to prevent gynecologic cancer; which includes all cancers that can occur in a woman’s reproductive organs.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the most common types of gynecologic cancer are ovarian, cervical, vulvar, vaginal and uterine. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of these and is sometimes referred to as the “Silent Killer” because of its lack of symptoms. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer for women, but is in decline in the US due to increased screening.
“Getting a regular pap test is the best defense women have for protecting themselves against cervical cancer,” Dr. Fowler stressed. “These tests can usually detect abnormal cells before they become cancerous.”
This past spring, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force updated recommendations regarding the frequency of pap smear tests in women. Screening with pap tests should begin at age 21, or at the onset of sexual activity. Women ages 30-65 only need to be screened with a pap and HPV test once every five years if they have no abnormal history. Finally, women age 65 and older with no history of abnormal pap tests no longer need cervical screening, but should continue regular physicals.
Dr. Fowler noted that not all gynecological cancers can be detected with a pap test. Each cancer is unique with its own signs and symptoms, risk factors and prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecological cancers, but some risk increases with age. “The most important thing to remember is that the earlier the cancer is found, the more effective the treatment will be,” said Dr. Fowler.
Symptoms for gynecologic cancers vary. The CDC suggests you consult your primary care provider if you are experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain or pressure, abdominal or back pain, bloating, changes in bathroom habits or changes is the appearance of your reproductive organs.