Updated 4/22/22

Updated Visitation Policy (4/22)

Effective April 22, 2022 we have updated both hospitals’ Visitation Policy: RMC medical inpatients who are negative for COVID-19 will be allowed one visitor per day during their stay, including ONE overnight visitor. Read the full policy for details here.

The Silence of Cervical Cancer, Why Screenings Save Lives

According to the CDC, every women is at risk for cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina to the upper part of the uterus. “[The cervix] kind of looks like a donut with a donut hole in the middle.” Says Dr. Ricky Patel, an OBGYN at RMC. Dr. Patel and Dr. Ford joined us for our RMC Physician Check-Up to answer some of our most asked questions about cervical cancer.

What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

Not smoking is the first thing recommended by CDC to prevent most forms of cancers, and cervical cancer is no different. (Here is a resource if you want help quitting cigarettes.) Also, use condoms when having intercourse and limit the amount of partners you have to prevent getting HPV. “Usually HPV is very silent. You won’t know if you have it. There are some that cause cancer, and there are some that cause genital warts. It’s all part of the same HPV family.”

HPV is the human papillomavirus, and it is the most commonly transmitted infection in the United States. A vaccine is available for both men and women with a typical age window of 13-26 to receive it. “At age 27 or above you should talk with your doctor to see if you would qualify to get it given the risk factors you’ve had and potential exposure to HPV that you’ve had.”

“Screening very important.” Dr. Patel stated. Cervical cancer is found through pap smears and HPV tests, but has little to no symptoms on its own. Pap smears can find abnormalities through an annual exam. “When you turn 21, that’s when we usually start screening.” After your first visit, you still need to come for annual check-ups but pap smears can sometimes be every 3 years instead. “That’s something you should talk to your doctor about.” Dr. Patel informed us.

Are there any signs or symptoms for cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer that is advanced can cause bleeding after sex, or abnormal discharge. “These can be signs of things that are benign as well.” Dr. Patel urges us again to speak with a doctor if you are concerned, because cervical cancer early on is often silent. Many people have no signs or symptoms of cervical cancer so be sure you are getting regular screenings.

What happens during a pap test/pap smear?

A pap test will look for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer as well as HPV and some other gynecologic cancers. In order to swab the cervix, a few things will happen:

  • The patient will lie back and place their feet into foot rests or stirrups.
  • A doctor will insert a tool called a speculum into the vagina to hold the vaginal walls open.
  • The doctor will brush a thin, long swab over the cervix.
  • The cells will then be placed on a petri dish and sent off for testing.

“The process is a little uncomfortable unfortunately.” Say Dr. Patel “But it should only last just a couple of minutes.”

My test came back abnormal, now what?

“An abnormal pap smear does not always mean cancer.” Dr. Rachel Ford states. Thankfully, cervical cancer is rare, and an abnormal screening could indicate HPV or precancers. “This should not effect you ability to get pregnant.” Dr. Ford continued. “5% of pregnancies’ will be complicated by either an abnormal pap smear or positive HPV.”

Just like anyone else with HPV, pregnant women can experience genital warts or abnormal cell changes on the cervix. It is imperative that you keep up with your screenings to prevent these changes from becoming cancerous. Some of the abnormalities found during pregnancies can wait until a later date, and the pregnancy can go on as normal or possibly more closely monitored depending on the situation. “If you are diagnosed with an invasive cancer, you will most likely be referred to a gynecologist-oncologist on what to do during the pregnancy.”

Procedures that follow an abnormal pap smear.

There a few different things that can happen after results of a pap smear come back as abnormal. A repeat pap smear may be take place as well as a colposcopy, a biopsy of the cervix. “This is usually done in the office. It is well tolerated by most patients.” The biopsy is sent to be looked at for cancer and precancerous lesions.

Other procedures include LEEP procedures, which removed cells and tissue from the lower genital tract, and a cone biopsy, a small operation to remove a piece of tissue from the cervix. Dr. Ford explains that “These are all things that can be both diagnostic and therapeutic for anyone with precancerous lesions.”

Get Screened for Cervical Cancer

Use our physician finder to locate one of our premiere women’s health specialists for your annual visit. For more information on cervical cancer, check out Dr. Ford and Dr. Patel’s Physician Check-Ups!