The Importance of Timely Screening for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer kills women. In the US, nearly 4,300 women perish from cervical cancer every year. About 14,000 more will be diagnosed with the disease — and untold thousands live their lives undiagnosed until it’s too late.
Globally, cervical cancer is far more prevalent and dangerous in developing nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) says cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women. Approximately 570,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, and roughly 311,000 women died from it.
The tragedy is that so many fatalities are avoidable with preventative healthcare, timely screenings, and early treatments.
Today, we’re looking at statistics and the value of pelvic exams and screenings. We’ll talk about the cause of cervical cancer, the cause of Pap smear anxiety among women, and explore the challenges women and practitioners face in developing nations.
Let’s start with a brief overview of cervical cancer screenings.
The Value of Cervical Cancer Screenings
Of all the known cancers, none is as suitable for primary and secondary prevention as cervical cancer. Adequate protection against it is available in the form of vaccination and screening its slow and monocausal genesis.
HPV and Cervical Cancer Facts
With very few exceptions, cervical cancer is the endpoint of persisting infections of Human Papillomavirus infection (HPV). HPV is a viral infection, communicated from one person to the next via skin-to-skin and sexual contact. We know at least 100 varieties of HPV exist, and at least 40 of them are passed through sexual contact.
- After the initial infection, cervical cancer occurs relatively slowly (compared to other types of cancer).
- The entire genesis from the initial HPV infection, to persistent infection with cellular transformation, to precancer, to invasive cervical cancer can take decades.
- There seems to be a minimum latency period of roughly seven years for many women.
In other words, a young woman who comes into contact with the HPV at age 20 virus may not display any symptoms until she’s in her late twenties or even her forties. And by then, it may be too late.
Types of Screenings
Per the US National Library of Medicine, Cervical cancer screenings are performed as part of a woman’s regular checkup in Western countries. There are two types of tests: the Pap screen and the HPV test.
For both types of tests, the practitioner collects cells from the surface of the cervix.
- After a Pap test, the lab checks the sample for the existence of cancer cells or other abnormal cells that could become cancerous later.
- With the HPV test, the lab checks for HPV infection.
- If either test is abnormal, the physician will suggest more tests, like a biopsy, for instance.
- Once confirmed, it can be aggressively treated.
From a practitioner’s point of view, cervical cancer screenings are non-invasive and routine. They are simple outpatient procedures that require no anesthesia. However, many women find them to be intrusive or embarrassing. The fact that pap smears cause anxiety among women is well documented.
Why Do Screenings Cause Anxiety?
For some women, cervical cancer screenings are a mild inconvenience. But for others, nervousness and anxiety can make a pap smear appointment very difficult to attend. As a practitioner, you’ve likely experienced this with women who seem proactive about their health, but continually cancel or don’t show up to their cervical cancer screening appointments.
- There are many triggers for this anxiety in women — body dysmorphic disorders, health anxiety, fear of the unknown, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a history of sexual abuse or rape — to name a few.
We cannot exist inside our patient’s heads to experience life as they do, so we must spend adequate time and resources explaining the value of timely screenings. Some women will only accept these emotionally stressful tests when faced with the realities of HPV and cervical cancer statistics, and the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Communicating With Patients About the Importance of Timely Cervical Cancer Screenings
In advanced countries, young women are more literate than ever. With education and earning ability that rivals those of her male counterparts, and access to hand-held technology at her fingertips, the importance of timely screenings is easy for her to grasp. Anxiety aside, a few phone calls and emails will likely be enough to convince a modern woman of the value of pap smears or HPV tests.
Things are more complicated in developing nations, though. We think AXA.com says it best: “From difficulty in accessing reliable diagnoses or appropriate care, to a lack of proper equipment or medication, the problems facing healthcare in the developing world are many.”
On the Lack of Timely Screenings in Developing Nations
A lack of timely cervical cancer screenings is more prevalent — and has severe consequences — among women in third-world nations.
Consider their situation: lower-income families cannot pay for doctor visits, complex family responsibilities mean a woman cannot attend her appointment, dependence on a family member for transportation leads to missed appointments… Frankly, women in developing countries have little control over their lives.
Then, add some old-fashioned ideologies to the mix. Some tribes and communities practice female genital mutilation (FGM). For example, in Somalia, 98% of women ages 15 through 49 have undergone genital mutilation. We can certainly understand a young Somali woman’s Pap smear anxiety. Imagine her reluctance to get on an examination table and put her feet in the stirrups.
HER-SPEC: a Faster, Less-Stressful Approach to Screenings
It doesn’t matter where in the world you practice, nor where your patient sits on the socio-economic scale. Her risks of cervical cancer are real, and so is her anxiety.
That’s why the team at obp created HER-SPEC, a self-lit, single-use, click-free vaginal speculum. It’s ideal for brick-and-mortar practices and clinics performed in the most remote locations. Contact us to learn how a click-free, fast pelvic exam experience can be better for your patients, and click here to order samples today.