Annual gynecological exams key to showing cervical cell changes
Post Independent Staff
If Dr. LeAnn Kocher had her say, she would see her patients at least once a year.
Kocher, a gynecologist with Women’s Health Associates in Glenwood Springs, said women can play a key role in preventing cervical cancer with annual exams.
“If you’re having a Pap smear, then you’re on the right track already,” Kocher said. “Truly, our Pap smears are meant to pick up pre-cancerous changes.”
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, cervical cancer affects about 14,000 women in the United States per year. Annual Pap tests can indicate the presence of non-cancerous or cancerous cells that could possibly be linked to the human papilloma virus, a common infection often transmitted sexually which has been linked to abnormal cells in the cervix.
“A Pap smear does not pick up ovarian cancer and uterine cancer ” it is just for cervical cancer,” Kocher said. “We’ve finally linked (cervical cancer) to HPV. We’ve known about HPV for about five or six years, but it’s been in research circles longer than that. There are a lot of types of HPV that are low-risk and not cancer-causing. There are only about 13 viruses in that family that are high-risk.”
Studies suggest at least three out of four people will be diagnosed with an HPV infection in their lifetimes, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Kocher said while HPV is prevalent, cervical cancer ” which typically has no symptoms ” is rare in the United States.
“If you look at the time frame from the first abnormal Pap to cervical cancer, it’s anywhere from eight to 12 years,” Kocher said. “That’s for ladies who haven’t done anything. There’s still so much modern medicine doesn’t know about the HPV virus.”
Kocher said avoiding regular annual exams is often prevalent in the Hispanic population.
“Their social situation does not put emphasis on annual Pap smears,” she said.
For women who receive abnormal Pap results, additional testing may be required. A repeat Pap, a biopsy (removal of cervical tissue for lab testing) or a colposcopy (viewing of the cervix, vulva and vagina with a magnifying colposcope) can help doctors pinpoint cervical problems. If necessary, abnormal cells can be frozen, which destroys the affected tissue, or removed with an electrosurgical procedure.
“We’re not treating the virus, we’re treating the abnormal cells the virus causes,” Kocher said. “My job is not to treat cervical cancer ” it is to prevent people from getting it.”
Christy Martin, Dr. Kocher’s nurse, said she offers helpful advice to patients who receive abnormal Pap results.
“One of the first things we tell our patients who have HPV with abnormal Paps is that they need to quit smoking,” Martin said. “I also tell them to have annual Paps, limit their sexual partners and use condoms, and take good care of themselves.”
Contact April E. Clark: 945-8515, ext. 518
– Eleven percent of United States women do not have regular cervical cancer screenings.
– In the United States, about 14,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer disease each year and more than 3,900 American women die each year from this disease.
– Women in developing countries account for about 85 percent of both the yearly cases of cervical cancer (estimated at 493,000 cases worldwide) and the yearly deaths from cervical cancer (estimated at 273,500 deaths worldwide).
– In the majority of developing countries, cervical cancer remains the No. 1 cause of cancer-related deaths among women.
– A woman who does not have cervical cancer screening on a regular basis significantly increases her chances of developing cervical cancer.
– High-risk human papilloma virus types are directly related to cervical cancer, yet many women are unaware of what HPV is or the relationship it has to cervical cancer disease.
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