Breast cancer is the traditional headline grabber but this week the spotlight is on another form of women’s cancer.
National Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (on until October 27) is a special project of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada (FMWC) and The Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC), designed to not only increase public consciousness, but also feature pap test clinics hosted by more than 150 healthcare professionals nationally.
While most of us harbour a secret dread of the pap, it’s proven to be a reliable weapon in the war of prevention against a disease whose symptoms tend to become apparent only when the cancer is firmly established. By recognizing abnormal cell growth, the pap intervenes at a pivotal stage to help prevent the growth and development of malignancy.
The statistics concerning cervical cancer and its precursive abnormal cell development should be enough to propel even the most reluctant women into the open arms of those waiting stirrups — every year 400,000 women will have an abnormal pap test result, 1,300-1,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and almost 400 women will die as a result.
The news isn’t all bad news however — since 1995 both the disease and its incumbent mortality rates have declined. The reasons? The pap, HPV vaccination (the human papillomavirus causes most cervical cancer) and increased knowledge and information.
Dr. Crystal Cannon, president of the FMWC, stresses the need for screening in a release: “Cervical cancer develops over time. Many women wait to develop signs and symptoms before seeing their doctor. By then, cervical cancer can be very well advanced. Regular pap tests could have helped prevent the cancer from developing at all.”
If you are 21 or sexually active you should have a pap annually until you are at least 70. After two consecutive normal tests, once every three years is the rule.
No need to panic if your test indicates the presence of abnormal cells which can occur as the result of an infection and will typically clear up without medical intervention. An imperfect test result invites investigation rather than preordains the worst outcome.
If you’ve been postponing your pap, take advantage of this special week to finally do the right thing for your health and longevity — find a participating health clinic near you by consulting the FMWC website at fmwc.ca.