By Miriam D. Weisberg
The United States Preventative Services Task Force and American Cancer Society advocate the importance of Papanicolaou tests (Pap test) as effective screening for cervical cancer prevention. Since the introduction of Pap tests, there has been a decline in cervical cancer deaths by 50%. These statistics are a proud reflection of the impact early detection has had over the past 30 years.
USPTF guideline revisions now recommend Pap tests once every 3 years for women over 21, and only once every 5 years after the age of 30. Despite the success of early detection, the new guidelines are decreasing the frequency of examination. Is the leniency of these guidelines a risk factor for the next generation of young women?
The guideline revisions are based on the correlation between HPV and development of cervical cancer, which accounts for 91% of cervical cancers every year.. Unlike self-breast exams for breast cancer, there are no methods for women to detect a precancerous lesion on their cervix, which may be missed in the other 9% of the at-risk population. In 2009, a busy single mom went to her gynecologist and had a normal Pap. On a Friday night in 2011, she was rushed to the emergency room on the verge of hypovolemic shock. An exploratory surgery the next day confirmed HPV-negative Stage 3b cervical cancer and aggressive treatment was started immediately.
Any working single mother knows putting herself first is a foreign concept. There are always reasons to push personal items further down the to do list. Health maintenance is inevitably one of these items.
Maybe you are moving your son into college this year or it’s your daughter’s birthday. Rescheduling your medical appointments is a simple solution to making space in your schedule, but there just never seem to be enough hours in the day. So you may miss your Pap this year. It has already been three years since the last one, but you feel it can wait a little bit longer.
Gynecological cancers are unfortunately overshadowed by breast cancer in the social media world of women’s health. I am an advocate for gynecologic cancer prevention because my mom was one of the 9% HPV-negative cervical cancers. That story was my mother’s experience with cervical cancer. This piece was written in honor and celebration of reaching her fifth year in remission this March.
As medical professionals we may not always be able to change recommendations for screening, but as educated women in society we can be a voice for each other. My message for you is to be an advocate for your patients, your loves ones, and most importantly, for yourself.
Miriam (Mimi) Weisberg is originally from Miami Fl and is now entering her third year at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in her hometown. She is a student advocate for women interested in a surgical career. She has been interested in surgery since the age of 16, and is supported by her mother, sister and mentor, an orthopedic surgeon at Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s hospital.
The author of this post was given permission to disclose her mother’s personal story. Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author, and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.