Women, have you been putting off a visit to the gynecologist?
Unfortunately, cervical cancer doesn’t put things off.
“If you put off screenings, early detection of precancerous lesions can become progressive, leading to more intensive treatments, which can include a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy or surgery,” said Dr. Neil Rosenshein with Meritus Gynecologic Oncology Specialists.
The problem stems from cervical cancer not showing symptoms until it has progressed.
The common sign of advanced cervical cancer includes bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. See your care provider right away when you notice any new or suspicious symptoms because they might be caused by something else.
Though the numbers have been decreasing over the years, cervical cancer is still the fifth most common cancer found in women worldwide. Cervical cancer in the vast majority of cases is caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection.
Each year in the United States, more than 11,500 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed, and more than 4,000 women die of this cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For every 100,000 women, seven new cervical cancer cases were reported and two women died of this cancer.
Maryland ranked 16th in the nation between 2016 and 2020, the most recent years available, with an age-adjusted rate of 6.6 cases of cervical cancer for every 100,000 women, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group and reported by the CDC. The total number of cases during that time was 1,116.
The state ranked 24th in the nation during that time for the number of deaths from cervical cancer — two for every 100,000 women, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. The total number of deaths during that time was 372.
In Washington County, Md., there were 31 new cases of cervical cancer between 2016-2020, according to the U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. For every 100,000 women, eight cervical cancer cases were reported during that time. Data on the number of deaths from cervical cancer during that time were not reported.
One of the best things women can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccine, which Dr. Rosenshein said is approved for women ages 9 to 45. And the current iteration of the vaccine encompasses most virulent strains of the virus.
Another key way to prevent the cancer is to get regular screenings.
There are two kinds of tests to screen for cervical cancer:
· The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not appropriately treated, or early detection of cancer.
· The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus.
Dr. Rosenshein said women should have cervical cancer screenings done regularly.
“Cervical cancer is a preventable disease,” he said. “If you play by the rules, the chances of you developing cervical cancer are extremely limited.”
Dr. Rosenshein, a gynecologic oncologist, earned his medical degree from the University of Florida College of Medicine in Gainesville, Fla., and completed his residency at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He completed fellowships in gynecologic oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, N.Y., and at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During Dr. Rosenshein's extensive career, he has authored books, published articles, conducted medical research, and won numerous awards. Known nationally and locally as a champion of women's health, his passion is to educate women outside major urban areas about ovarian, endometrial, and cervical cancer. Dr. Rosenshein’s area of interest includes complex gynecologic surgery and ovarian, cervical, and uterine cancers.