Make Your Female Health A Priority In Honor Of National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

By Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

By Aliza Leiser, M.D., Gynecologic Oncologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

January is full of New Year's resolutions; make your health one of them. With January being National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, there is no better time to receive a cervical cancer screening and get educated about cervical cancer and ways to prevent it.

It's estimated that 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, and about 4,100 women will die from cervical cancer this year. Over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has decreased by more than 50 percent. This decrease is mainly due to the increased use of cervical cancer screenings.

When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with a long life. Listed below, please find important information that you should know about cervical cancer, from the initial preventative screenings, through diagnosis and treatment options.

· Screenings: Of all the gynecologic cancers, only cervical cancer has a screening test: the Pap test (or Pap smear). The Pap test allows for this cancer to be found early when treatment works best and has proven to be most effective. The test detects cervical cancer early and it also detects changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future, if they are not treated properly. Detecting these abnormalities in the cells is the first step in halting the potential development of cervical cancer. The Pap test is recommended for all women, starting at the age of 21, regardless of sexual activity.

In addition to the Pap test, which is the primary screening test for cervical cancer, women can also receive the human papillomavirus (HPV) test that detects the presence of HPV, the virus that is responsible for the majority of abnormal Pap tests and cervical abnormalities and can lead to the development of genital warts or cervical cancer. It is recommended that women receive the HPV test starting at age 30, but it can also be used to provide more information when Pap test results are unclear for women aged 21 and older.

· Risk factors: The main risk factor for cervical cancer is being infected with HPV. Other risk factors include smoking, being overweight, having a diet low in fruits and vegetables, long-term use of oral contraceptives, having three or more full-term pregnancies, being younger than 17-years-old at your first full-term pregnancy, and being infected with HIV or Chlamydia. It's important to keep in mind that many women with these risk factors will never develop cervical cancer.

· Signs and symptoms: Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers often have no symptoms; this is why getting screened for pre-cancerous cells is so important. Symptoms usually don't begin until the cancer grows into surrounding tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge and painful intercourse. These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, but if you exhibit any of these, I encourage you to see a doctor right away.

· Diagnosis: It's important to remember that with regular screenings, cancer is rare. However, if your Pap test comes back as abnormal, you may need a colposcopy. This is a minor procedure that allows the physician to examine your cervix with a microscope and, if needed, biopsy the abnormal cells. If a biopsy shows that cancer is present, your doctor may order additional tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to see if the cancer has spread beyond the cervix.

· Treatment options: Treating cervical cancer varies from person to person. Treatment options can vary depending on the stage of the disease, its size, depth of invasion, and how far it has spread. Common types of treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. It is important to explore and discuss all of your treatment options with your physician to find out what option is best for you.

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (Somerville and New Brunswick campuses) and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey have a distinguished Gynecologic Oncology Program that offers treatment for cancers of the female reproductive system, including cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, vulvar cancer, gestational trophoblastic disease, vaginal or cervical dysplasia and complex benign surgical conditions. The hospital's team of experts provide the full spectrum of care, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, palliative care as well as access to clinical trials, and the surgeons are highly-qualified and experiences in a variety of areas, such as minimally-invasive robotic techniques, single-port approach and same-day surgery for hysterectomy patients. The Gynecologic Oncology Program at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset's Steeplechase Cancer Center and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey uses the continuity of care approach for the treatment of gynecologic oncology patients. This means that the gynecologic oncologist stays with the patient throughout the entire course of the patient's disease to ensure that she is getting the very best care.

This new year, take that leap to invest in your health by scheduling your early detection screening with your physician or local hospital. Being informed about female cancers, including cervical cancer, could make the difference in helping to protect you or a loved one from this potentially deadly disease. Make a resolution to schedule an appointment and opening up the dialogue about cancer prevention. For more information on Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital's Gynecologic Oncology Program, please call (908) 243-8660 or visit

Aliza Leiser, M.D., is a Gynecologic Oncologist at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

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