A recent study found that cervical cancer is deadlier than we imagined. The research showed a much higher death rate, which investigators believe is due to them analyzing all women, including those who've had a hysterectomy. The adjustment showed a significant increase in cervical cancer cases, especially in minority women.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, cervical cancer disproportionately impacts the Latino community at 9.7 percent, compared to non-Latinos at 7.1 percent. The American Cancer Society also notes that in just this year alone, more than 12,820 cases will be diagnosed, and 4,210 women will die from the disease. Even more important, perhaps, is that it is the leading cause of cancer death for Latinas, much due to lower income and decreased access to healthcare.
Latina nurse practitioner Linda Dominguez from Southwest Women's Health in Albuquerque, NM says, "Given these stats, it’s important that we Latinas see our healthcare providers regularly. But more than showing up, we need to be prepared to ask important questions."
Not so surprisingly, Dominguez and her team found that women tend to focus on the "litlte things" during their exam or appointment, rather than the big picture and reason for the screening. "We found that 85 percent of women consider their gynecologic appointment when they are getting ready that day. Funny enough, 80 percent of women prefer to wear granny panties over lingerie to their GYN exams. But that’s not something I even pay attention to," she explained, as a NP herself.
A 2014 report found that more than half of new cervical cancer patients came from women who rarely, or even never, got tested. This, of course, can be blamed on lack of access, embarrassment, anxiety and even laziness surrounding the screening. "It’s more important to me as a healthcare provider that women ask me about what tests they need and when, especially as it relates to cervical cancer screening," Dominguez explains. "Women over 30 should ask their healthcare provider if they are getting a Pap test and an HPV test to ensure they’re getting the best cervical cancer screening possible."
If before one is 30, however, these tests should still be happening. Starting at age 11 through 26, women are highly encouraged to get the three-shot HPV vaccine that protects from the major strains of HPV that cause cancer. Though the shots are often readily available at doctors' offices, it's important to note that only 70 percent of Latina women are getting them, compared to 75 percent of white women.
Though hard to detect, certain symptoms may occur when this cancer is developing, including vaginal bleeding not associated with the menstrual cycle, unusual discharge or pelvic pain, both during sex and not. Aside from the very important and regular screenings, women should avoid smoking, use condoms during sex and limit sexual partners to help avoid contracting the disease.
For more information, visit HealthyWomen.org.