Early detection = Early treatment: Cervical and Breast Cancer Screenings

Posted on January 12, 2017 by kerri
Pink female gender signWhile it is not possible in all cases, the best way to manage cancer is to detect it early. For women, routine medical tests are done to minimize risks of cervical cancer and breast cancer—which makes it important to make time for annual check-ins with your doctor to ensure you’re healthy. It may seem like a hassle to book these appointments into your busy schedule, but that extra hour or two off work every year or so is certainly worth the trade-off! Catching abnormal cells early may minimize intensive cancer treatment: an hour or two now could prevent hours of what you want to be doing—spending time at work, school, with children or family and friends—from being unexpectedly interrupted by cancer treatments.
Breast cancer screening
Self exams
It is easy for women to perform a monthly breast self-exam. Many cancer organizations will have instructional cards or even waterproof hangers with instructions to keep near your shower where this might be most convenient.
Exams by your doctor
Your primary care or family doctor will—or can, if you ask!—add a breast exam to your annual physical. These checks are quick and totally painless. If you have any questions about the self-exam process, this is a good time to have those answered, too.
Mammograms
Starting at age 50, maybe earlier if you have a history of breast cancer in the family, women should have a mammogram every second year per new 2016 recommendations. [1] It is recommended that mammograms continue through age 74. [1] Some women avoid mammograms due to fear of discomfort or pain. Your doctor or mammogram technician may have ideas or how to reduce pain, but it can be rationalized that short-term pain (whether it lasts through the procedure or up to a few days later [2]) would still pale in comparison to requiring major surgery.
Cervical cancer screening
The test for cervical cancer is called a Pap smear or Pap test, which simply takes a quick scraping of cells from your cervix (at the base of the uterus) and sends them off to be screened for abnormalities like the human papilloma virus (HPV). While I won’t get into the long story of how a uterine fibroid once lead me to have two pap smears in one day, I personally don’t find pap smears a big deal. Sure, there is mild discomfort associated with any gynecological or pelvic exam, but it’s over with relatively quickly. Pap tests have cut cervical cancer mortality (deaths) by 80%—which is a pretty good reason to get one. [3] Abnormal cells detected in a Pap test are not always pre-cancerous, either, and can result form other infections.
Pap tests should start at age 21 to screen for cervical cancer, and should be done at least every 3 years. If you have had 3 normal pap tests in a row and are over age 30, your doctor may decrease the frequency to every 5 years so long as you don’t have any conditions that make it more likely for you to develop cervical cancer. [3] If your pap tests come back normal until age 65, it is normal for your doctor to discontinue regular pap tests. [3]
The bottom line
Cancer screenings for women may not be comfortable, but they are necessary. Women should ensure that they keep up to date on their screening tests, and women and men alike should encourage other women to do the same!
If you have had cervical cancer or breast cancer in the past, the frequencies of these tests are likely to change per your doctor’s recommendations. You should also wear a cancer medical ID bracelet alerting medical personnel to any history of cancer to ensure they provide the right care, including avoiding use of the arm for needles or blood pressure if you have lymphedema from breast cancer surgery.
You can also show support for women living with cancer by wearing an awareness bracelet. Check out our breast cancer pink ribbon items, and a white and teal or teal/turquoise awareness ribbon is the symbol for gynecological cancer, including cervical cancer, also available in our shop.

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