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Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness Month

Written By: Julie Andrzejczak, CNM – Certified Nurse Midwife

A new year is upon us and once again, we find ourselves reflecting on the previous year, and anticipating what is to come in 2023. Each year brings different hopes and challenges for each person. Many people view the new year as a fresh start, an opportunity to improve something in their lives or do something differently. There is no better time than the beginning of a new year for us to consider our health.

Do you remember the last time you saw your health care provider for a regular checkup? Do you have someone that you would consider your primary provider?  It is recommended that you see a provider every year for an annual exam. This provider could be a family practice physician, a physician’s assistant, a nurse practitioner, or a nurse midwife. Annual exams are beneficial for any age. Their context and goals also change with age. For example, a brand-new baby is seen on a regular basis to see if they are growing appropriately and reaching their developmental milestones. As we get older, however, we are more likely to develop problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and a variety of different cancers and conditions. Establishing care with a primary care provider is a great first step to committing to your overall health. Each year your provider can evaluate your risk level for certain diseases, offer recommended vaccines, and discuss simple lifestyle modifications that may help lessen your risk of these problems. They can also keep track of when you are due to have specific screenings or evaluations such as mammograms, colonoscopy, or cholesterol testing. 

Many of the recommendations you may hear about come from the United States Preventive Services Task Force, or USPSTF. This organization is made up of volunteer experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. The USPSTF has made great improvements to the health of our nation with their recommended changes in screenings and disease prevention. 

January happens to be Cervical Cancer Screening Awareness month, so let’s talk about that for a minute. Cervical cancer is when a person develops cancerous cells on their cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus.  Developing this cancer before age 21 is rare. When you turn 21, part of the recommended screenings will include something called a Pap Smear. This test can easily be done at an annual exam and can detect abnormal cell growth on the cervix. This abnormal growth (which is often caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus or HPV) is one of the things that puts you at risk of developing cervical cancer. The good news is that since the implementation of widespread screening, the number of deaths in the United States from cervical cancer has decreased dramatically. In most cases, cervical cancer grows very slowly. If abnormal cells are followed at regular intervals, they can be removed prior to progressing to cancer. Many of us may remember our parents or grandparents talking about needing a pap smear every year. Those recommendations have changed with our increased understanding of this cancer.  Depending on your age and level of risk, your provider may recommend this test every year or up to every five years until age 65. 

The process for screening for cervical cancer is quite simple. Your provider will perform a speculum exam to gather cells from the cervix. These cells are then evaluated in a laboratory for abnormal growth. There is also a test that can detect the HPV virus, and routinely checking for this starts at age 30. Once your results are returned from the lab, your provider will contact you to discuss if there are any abnormalities and what, if anything, would be done next.

Although these types of appointments can provoke anxiety and worry for many patients, we at Western Wisconsin health strive to make each visit with us as comfortable as it can be. We use a shared decision-making model and are non-judgmental when you exercise your right to patient autonomy. Choosing a primary health care provider allows you to have a trusting relationship and a consistent resource for your medical needs. We love to get to know our patients and see them year after year. 

If you’d like to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider, please call 715-684-1111. At Western Wisconsin Health we are committed to building a healthier tomorrow, together. Let’s work together to make 2023 the year you commit to your health! 

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