Every two hours a woman dies from cervical cancer in the United States. An estimated 13,000 women are diagnosed with the disease each year. 33% of women diagnosed with the disease will not live beyond five years. Routine screening for cervical cancer, via pap smears, has decreased the prevalence of the disease by 50% since 1974. However, there are women around the country that believe pap smears are not needed, spreading their message, and putting others lives at risk.
The internet is filled with articles, blogs, and forums dedicated to slamming cervical cancer screening. Women argue that they are coerced, bullied, and forced into the exam by providers.
A blogger noted in her diatribe against pap smears that women report feeling “assaulted” as a result of the exam.
“Women are avoiding seeking medical advice for other issues, because they are scared of being coerced into having a smear. This is widespread. Who knows how many women develop and die from other cancers due to delayed medical advice? If you think I am being dramatic, take a simple google search into female message boards to see how terrified some women are.
Given that 1 in 4 women are survivors of sexual abuse, assault or rape, all medical investigations should be trauma-led. There are women who report being or feeling assaulted during the examination. This then puts them off seeking medical help for other issues. There must be more efficient, less invasive ways to test such as urine testing.”
If patients have a history of sexual abuse or assault, having an open conversation about their fears with their providers can help providers determine how best to approach the exam. While trauma from sexual assault is real, a caring provider will help a patient navigate them through the exam with compassion, kindness, and minimal trauma.
Pap smears, completed in clinics, are relatively painless and take minutes to perform. A doctor places a speculum inside the vagina. The speculum holds open the vaginal walls so the doctor can scrape cells from the cervix.
Once complete, the cells collected are sent to a lab to study the cells. If the cells obtained are abnormal, doctors can perform additional tests. By detecting abnormal cells, doctors can take steps to prevent the cells from developing into cancer.
Since the Pap smear was implemented in 1974, the prevalence of cervical cancer in women has dropped by 50%. Exams help by identifying cancer that is in very early stages. When cancer is detected in the cervix in an early stage, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 92%.
Overall, the testing has helped fewer women develop cancer and has reduced deaths associated with cervical cancer.
However, there continues to be misleading information online that pap smears are not necessary. Recently in a Facebook group, a woman asked if cervical exams are required. One woman responded with the following:
The woman responding told the poster that “most cases of cervical cancer clear up on their own.” Additionally, she reminded the woman that the HPV vaccine is a fraud and mammograms cause breast cancer.
Unfortunately, the woman received potentially deadly advice from the group. While there is a truth that some abnormal cells do clear up on their own, not all cells will clear by themselves. The virus that causes cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), has many different strains and types.
Milder or moderate abnormal cells associated with HPV may clear on their own. However, there are two strains of HPV, HPV-16, and HPV-18, that cause 70% of all cervical cancer incidents in women. Individuals with these strains of the virus are most at risk when their body does not naturally clear the cells on their own.
““High-risk” HPVs are types of genital HPV that are more likely to cause cancer. For most people, the immune system is able to get rid of this type of infection. However, some people develop a lasting infection. Over the course of many years, the infection transforms normal cells into precancerous lesions or cancer.”
Since most of us don’t have “gut instinct” about whether abnormal cells are growing inside us, screening removes any doubt we may be feeling. Additionally, when someone tells you that screening can cause “mutations,” that is just pseudoscience fearmongering.
Women in natural and alternative lifestyle groups are at risk of listening to the echo chamber spread false information about modern medical techniques. A Pap Smear is a minimally invasive test that takes less than five minutes. Due to fact that abnormal cells grow slowly on the cervix, screening is only necessary every three years.
A screen completed once every three years, can be the difference between life and death for many women. Cervical cancer is most deadly when it has gone undetected for years and spread. When dedicated in later stages, 33% of women will not survive more than five years.
In addition to a pap smear, HPV vaccinations can help prevent the spread of HPV through sexual intercourse. Additionally, the HPV vaccine helps prevent women from contracting the two strains of HPV that cause cancer. While the vaccines were only previously available to women under 25 years old, the FDA expanded the vaccine to include women under 45 years old.
Despite anti-vaccine propaganda that the HPV vaccine causes a host of injuries and death, there is is no scientific data to support their claims.
Always consult your primary physician regarding questions on safety, effectiveness, and reasons for having regular pap smears. While the internet can be a wealth of information for most, there are groups and articles that continue to spread false information.
Cervical cancer screenings save lives.
Please make sure you are current today!
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