cervical cancer screening

The Latest in Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention

In previous generations of women, cervical cancer was one of the most common causes of cancer death, but advancements in cervical cancer screening have dramatically changed this statistic. Over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent (source: American Cancer Society). The primary reason for the change? The increased use of the Pap test which can find cervical cancer in its most curable stages and even identify changes in the cervix prior to cancer developing.

Understanding Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

While cervical cancer screening was once routine as part of an annual well-woman exam, guidelines have changed through the years. Your age and health status now determine how often you need screening and which tests are recommended. Current guidelines are:

  • Age 21-29: Women have a Pap smear every three years
  • Age 30-65: Women have a Pap smear and HPV test (co-testing) every five years

For women with certain risk factors or symptoms, more frequent screening for cervical cancer may be suggested. It’s important to talk to your primary care doctor about the optimal cancer screening schedule for you, based on your health and family history.

“Healthcare is a partnership,” says Dr. Andrew Menzin, Chief, Division of Gynecologic Oncology, Central Region Department of OB/GYN, Northwell Health. “In today’s healthcare setting, women need to be proactive about their health through dialog with their doctor and maintaining important records, such as Pap test results.”
It’s also essential to contact your doctor right away if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms, such as:

  • Bleeding
  • Discharge
  • Pelvic pain

Gynecologist or General Practitioner?

Many young women rely on their gynecologist as their facilitator of primary care. Those who do should mention this during their well-woman exams to ensure they receive other necessary screenings, such as for blood pressure, bone density, weight, cholesterol and emotional health.

As women get older, their gynecological needs evolve. Cervical cancer screening may be discontinued in some women at 65 years, and the gynecologist can help navigate the medical issues that occur as part of the transition into the menopausal years. Regular visits remain an important part of women’s health maintenance.

Strides in Cervical Cancer Prevention

It is a unique moment in medical history when a vaccine can help prevent the development of cancer. This is currently the case with the available vaccines to prevent infection by certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, as well as many vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and oropharyngeal cancers (cancers of the throat and mouth).

The American Cancer Society recommends routine HPV vaccination for girls and boys, starting at age 11 or 12. HPV vaccination is also recommended for females 13 to 26 and males 13 to 21 who have not already started the vaccines. Talk to your doctor for specific HPV vaccination recommendations for yourself or your child.

Find out more about cervical cancer prevention and treatment. At Katz Institute for Women’s Health, we’re here to answer your questions. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

Breast Cancer Detection & Treatment

While breast cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death in females, significant advances in detection and treatment are helping women of all ages.

  • Early Detection
  • Approximately 40 percent of diagnosed breast cancers are found initially by women who feel a lump, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. One of the most important strategies a women can take when it comes to breast cancer detection is to perform monthly self-exams. Along with self-exams, screening tests remain vital to finding breast cancer when the chances of survival are at their highest. These tests include clinical breast exams, mammography and breast MRI for some women who are at higher risk or as a follow-up test after an abnormal finding. Earlier this year, Medicare approved coverage for tomosynthesis, also called 3D mammogram. This powerful tool enables doctors to obtain a more accurate view compared to digital mammography to better identify locations, sizes and shapes of abnormalities. “With 3D mammogram, we’re able to view breast tissue like pages of a book,” says Dr. Karen Kostroff, Chief of Breast Surgery at North Shore-LIJ Health System. “This is helping us to improve breast cancer detection rates and decrease patient call backs, which is extremely beneficial.”
  • Improvements in Genetic Testing
  • Approximately five to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are a result of a gene mutation inherited from a parent. Inherited mutations in two human genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, account for approximately 20 to 25 percent of hereditary breast cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. Harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can be inherited from either a person’s mother or father, and each child of a parent who carries the mutation has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. “Genetic testing is becoming increasingly common as we learn more about how heredity impacts breast cancer risk,” says Dr. Kostroff. “Currently, there are several screening tools and tests available to look for specific mutations in genes. It’s important for women to talk to their doctor to determine if genetic counseling or testing could be beneficial.”
  • Surgical Options
  • Between 60 and 75 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer opt for a lumpectomy over a full mastectomy. It is less disfiguring and often has similar survival rates when combined with radiation. One of the primary risks of a lumpectomy has been needing a second surgery to remove more of the cancer or surrounding tissue. However, with advances in preoperative therapies and techniques used during surgery to determine the outer edges (margins) of cancerous tissue, the risk of requiring a second surgery has been greatly reduced.
  • Radiation
  • There are also new radiation recommendations for breast cancer treatment. The typical course of treatment used to be six to seven weeks, but new research has shown that three weeks of radiation offers the same level of benefits with fewer side effects.
  • Chemotherapy
  • For many women who require chemotherapy as part of their breast cancer treatment, hair loss is one of the most difficult side effects. Researchers have discovered that cooling the scalp during chemo treatments can make it harder for cancer-fighting drugs to damage hair follicles. Using a tight-fitting cap that is cold enough to numb the scalp is helping to minimize hair loss in some cancer patients. Although there has not yet been FDA approval for cold caps, there are a number of products now on the market using this innovative technology.
  • Reconstruction
  • Nipple-sparing mastectomies are also becoming increasingly performed on women who have no sign of cancer in the skin or near the nipple. The advantage of this procedure is that the breast can look virtually unchanged and intact, which can improve self-esteem and self-body image. “Nipple-sparing mastectomy has helped patients that still need a mastectomy achieve the most incredibly natural result with one less operation to get to that endpoint,” according to Dr. Kostroff.

Thanks in large part to the many advances in diagnosing and treating breast cancer, survival rates for this complex disease that strikes one in eight women are improving. Through the combined proactive efforts of researchers, healthcare providers and women, we can all look forward to a future of fewer diagnosed cases, better outcomes and more long-term survivors. Do you want to learn more about breast cancer detection and treatment? Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-KIWH (5494) to speak with a women’s health specialist.