To mark Cervical Health Awareness Month this January, our obstetrics and gynecology team has put together helpful patient information to help improve cervical cancer education in Qatar.
Cervical cancer is currently the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide and the fifthmost frequent cancer among women in Qatar. As a disease which develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer — meaning awareness can save lives through early detection and diagnosis.
Here, our experts share symptoms to look out for, information on screening and important questions to ask your doctor:
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus.
A large majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus infection (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from causing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. If the cancer is advanced, however, symptoms include vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause, a watery discharge, loss of bladder control, weight loss, tiredness and lack of energy.
How do I decrease my risk of cervical cancer?
Prevention measures should be discussed with your doctor and include healthy sexual behavior, smoking cessation, HPV-vaccination and testing, as well as regular cervical cancer screening through the use of the Pap smear.5
When should I get tested?
The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old.
What should I expect during the test?
For some women Pap tests can be a little unnerving, especially during the first visit and if you don’t know what to expect. The good news is that the whole procedure is usually done within just a few minutes and is a standard part of monitoring a woman’s health.
It’s important to remember that clinicians conducting these procedures are highly trained and have performed hundreds or thousands of exams and see it as a normal part of their job. This is not an emotional experience for the clinician and they are trained to make you feel as comfortable as possible during the procedure.
During the appointment:
- For your own comfort, you may want to empty your bladder before the exam.
- It is okay to bring a female family member or friend if that helps create a calm and comfortable environment.
- The clinician will ask you to change into a paper or cloth gown and lay down on the examination table, placing your feet on foot rests. You may want to wear socks for comfort.
- A plastic or metal instrument called the speculum will be used to allow for a clear view of the cervix.
- Once the speculum is in place, a spatula or soft brush will be inserted through it to take a swab from the cervix. This may feel slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful.
- · The doctor may also perform a pelvic exam, checking the uterus, ovaries, and other organs, as well as a breast exam, to make sure there are no problems at the same time as the Pap test.
The sample of cervical cells is then sent to a laboratory and examined to see whether there are any abnormal cells.
What should I ask my doctor at a screening test?
To help educate yourself and feel more comfortable and informed about your decisions, consider asking the following questions before the test:
- Will a doctor or nurse carry out my test?
- Which tests am I having?
- Are there any risks associated with taking the test?
- I’m pregnant; can I still have a screening?
- What’s the most likely cause of my symptoms (if applicable)?
- Do I need any additional tests?
- When do I get my results?
- What will the results mean?
What will a doctor ask me at a screening test?
A doctor is also likely to ask a number of questions at a screening test, including:
- If you are or might be pregnant.
- If you have any reproductive or urinary tract symptoms such as itching, redness, etc.
- If you are using birth control
- If this is your first Pap test.
- The first day of your last menstrual period and how long your period lasted.
- If you have had surgery or other procedures such as radiation therapy to the reproductive area.
- If you have had an abnormal Pap test in the past.
- If you are experiencing any symptoms and when did they start.
- If you symptoms have changed over time.
- If you have ever been treated for a cervical condition.
- If you have ever taken medications that suppress your immune system.
To find out more information on cervical cancer, make an appointment with your doctor and visit websites such as the World Health Organization to learn more.