A recent study shows that second hand smoke increases the risk of abnormal pap smears. While second hand smoke was not proven to cause cervical cancer, it does prove to cause abnormalities in cervical tissue. In the study, the women who said they were exposed to some second hand smoke were 70 more likely to have an abnormal result.
Actively smoking has already been linked to increasing damage in the cervix caused by HPV. A concrete link between second hand smoke exposure and the cancer may not be a long way off. This study does not confirm a direct connection, but why take a chance?
January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
Although a healthy cervix is an unlikely addition to a woman's New Year's resolutions list, it is one that shouldn't be overlooked! The cervix may be a very small part of the body, but is vital organ in the female reproductive system. (See "What is a Cervix and Why Do I Need It?") Resolving to maintain and promote cervical health is one of the best resolutions any woman can make! Check out these simple ways to have a healthy cervix in 2010.
US Congress has desginated January as the "Cervical Health Awareness Month". This month we are called to raise awareness about cervical cancer for friends, family and also through media outlets. There are many thing a single person can do to help raise awareness about cervical cancer:
Remind female friends and family members to get a regular Pap smear.
A regular Pap smear is highly effective at preventing cervical cancer!
- Get the HPV vaccine and don't be shy about it. If eligible to receive the the HPV vaccine, by all means, get the vaccine! Let your friends know about the vaccine and answer any questions they may have about it. Sometimes it takes only person to take the leap to get others to start jumping.
For those at average risk of breast and cervical cancer, it has been a busy week! Last week new, more lenient mammography guidelines were recommended, stirring up controversy among cancer organizations and political cynics. Today, we see changes in cervical cancer screening guidelines, issued by The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Like the updated mammography guidelines, ACOG is recommending less Pap smear tests for women of average risk of cervical cancer. Women who have had abnormal cervical screenings should continue to follow their doctors recommendations as the new guidelines only apply to women of average risk.
New Guidelines Suggest:
- Women should have their first period at age 21. Old guidelines recommended women have their first Pap when they become sexually active or at age 21 -- whichever came first.
- Women in their 20's should have a Pap smear every two years, instead of annually. Women in their 30's and have had three consecutive normal Pap smears should have undergo screening every three years.
- Women 65-70, who have have three normal Pap smear results consecutive and no abnormal findings in 10 years, can discontinue screenings altogether if they choose.
- Women who have undergone a total hysterectomy due to a noncancerous condition and have not had previously abnormal Pap smears can also discontinue screenings.
Shouldn't We Be Screening More Often?
Unlike a lot of cancers, cervical cancer is very slow growing. It can take up to 8-10 years for cervical cancer to develop. New guidelines give ample time to catch any cases of cervical pre-cancer before it progresses into cancer. Conspiracy theorists argue that these new guidelines for cancer screenings are among a grand plan by the Obama administration to cut costs for healthcare reform. I completely disagree. There have been talks of updating guidelines for years now. Medically, it makes perfect sense to increase the time between Pap smears and there isn't a huge debate among cancer organizations about the new changes. Now, the breast cancer screening debate is a whole different ballgame. Check out About.com's Breast Cancer site's heated discussion about the new changes.
Anal cancer has been put in the spotlight with Farrah Fawcetts's battle with the disease. What many people are starting to learn is that a common virus, HPV, is a major risk risk factor for developing anal cancer.
HPV is a virus transmitted thorugh sexual contact and it is estimated that over 20 million Americans are infected. There are over 100 different types of HPV, however only a few are responsible for cancer development. HPV is also the leading cause of cervical cancer, a disease that plagues of 9,000 American women each year. The good news is that most cases of HPV clear up on their own before progressing to cancer. However, a regular Pap smear is needed to monitor any changes in the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer. The bottom line is that if you don't get a Pap smear, you are more at risk of developing cervical cancer.
The FDA has given their approval to expand the use of Gardasil to include males. The vaccine, which provides protection against the human papillomavirus (HPV), is targeted for males ages 9 to 26. It will help prevent two strains of HPV known to cause genital warts in both men and women. The vaccine has not yet been included in the CDC's vaccine schedule for males, but it is likely to be included. Until Gardasil is included in the vaccine schedule, most insurance companies will not likely cover the cost of the vaccine, which is about $360. The good news is that the CDC is expected to meet next week to discuss Gardasil's inclusion, so there shouldn't be too long of a delay in getting males vaccinated.
I have always practiced safe sex by using a condom, but my doctor says that I have HPV. How is this possible? Don't condoms prevent HPV?
-An About.com Cervical Cancer reader
It's common knowledge that condoms provide excellent protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but how do they fare against the human papillomavirus (HPV)? Most people are unsure about whether condoms provide protection and it's a growing concern as people become more aware about HPV.
Read: Condoms and HPV to find out how much protection condoms provide against the cancer causing virus.
Photo (c) Bill Davenport
Recently, a reader posted a question about whether you should tell your partner if you have HPV. HPV is a common virus with serious health consequences, but is it so common that we underestimate the health effects? I spoke to a group recently who had mixed feelings about telling their partner. Here are some of the responses:
"It's not like it AIDS. My business is my business."
"Absolutely! Your partner has a right to know if you have a illness."
"It's too embarrassing. I would die before I told my girlfriend."
Some felt honesty was the best policy, but a strong majority felt it would be too awkward to tell their partner. What would you do?
Poll: Should You Tell Your Partner that You Have HPV?
More About HPV
Too many women go without having regular Pap smears because they are uninsured and cannot afford the out of pocket expense. Thanks to federal and state programs, no woman has to go without having a regular Pap smear - regardless of income or insurance coverage. Help is available - women just need to know where to look!
Regular Pap smears are vital to optimum cervical health. This means having one on a regular basis - as directed by their doctor. A Pap smear is not a diagnostic test, but a screening tool. Screening tests identify abnormalities when the patient has no symptoms, while a diagnostic test helps identify the cause of symptoms in the form of a diagnosis of illness or disease. The Pap smear helps identify women who are at high risk of developing cervical cancer. Since it is not considered a diagnostic tool, it is essential that women have one regularly.
Photo (c) Muriel Miralles de Sawick
When it comes to cervical cancer, it's best not to rely on symptoms to alert you that something may be wrong. Cervical cancer is a complicated disease that normally doesn't produce symptoms until the cancer has spread. Then cervical cancer symptoms begin to appear. Read more about cervical cancer symptoms...
Want to Check Your Symptoms?
Learning what your symptoms may be caused by is only a click away with the About.com Symptom Checker! It is an interactive program that allows you explore what your symptoms could mean based on important factors like age and gender. Plus, the information is provided by Harvard Medical. Check your symptoms...
My first ASCUS Pap smear result came long before I knew anything about gynecology or anything medically related for that matter. My doctor casually said "You have an ASCUS Pap result. Come back in 3 months.". I had no clue what he was referring to - Ask us? Ask who? I was young and naive and was really clueless to patient empowerment. I didn't ask a lot of questions because I was scared.
I went home that night and searched for ASCUS on the internet. There wasn't a lot of information that I could relate to or even understand. Of course, this was many, many years ago. Today, there is much more patient friendly information about Pap smear results. If you have had an ASCUS Pap result, ask questions. Ask your gynecologist ANY question you have - that is what they are there for! Secondly, if you think of any questions after your appointment, call your doctor and leave a message. Finally, become a more informed patient. You can start by reading this article on ASCUS Pap smear results and why you really shouldn't worry too much over them.