by Heather Dommer, ARNP
Welcome to 2022. With a new year comes a fresh start. So for the Survivorship Corner we have decided to start focusing on a specific cancer type each month. We are going to try to follow long with the National Cancer Awareness Months.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Cancer Institute (2021) cervical cancer has been on the decline over the past 30 years due to advances in prevention and treatment. Last year, there were approximately 14,000 new cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the United States. This accounts for about 0.8% of all cancer diagnoses.
The majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The good news is that we have been able to develop a vaccine that helps prevent the development of HPV infection and thus helps prevent cervical cancer from ever occurring. The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the vaccine be given to all girls and boys at age 11 or 12. The problem is there is a lack of awareness and adherence to this recommendation.
Screening for cervical cancer is also important because it can detect the cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment outcomes are better. The screening for this is a pap smear. This involves collecting some cells from the cervix and looking at them under the microscope. Abnormal cells seen can be treated to prevent the development of cancer. Current screening guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2021) recommend starting pap smears at age 21 and completing them every 3 years. Then from ages 30-65 there are 3 different options: 1) continue pap smear testing every 3 years, 2) complete HPV testing every 5 years, or 3) complete a pap smear and HPV testing every 5 years. After age 65 or if the person has a hysterectomy the pap smear is no longer needed if there is no history of cervical abnormalities.
Treatment for cervical cancer many times involves surgery. This can be done by either ablation (destroying cells) or by excisional (removal of cells) surgery. Some cervical cancer may also need to be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation. There are also targeted drug therapies and immunotherapies that can be used. The treatment will be based on the stage of the cervical cancer, but may also consider patient’s age, health status, and their desire to have children or not.
Survivorship care after cancer treatment is important. The goal of cancer treatment is to remove/destroy cancer cells, but sometimes this is not always possible. Some people live with cancer for long periods of time while on maintenance treatment. No matter which category the patient fits into it is important to develop a survivorship care plan. This is a written plan that helps guide the patient and their healthcare providers for survivorship care. This will include a recommended schedule of follow-up exams or tests. It will also include screening recommendations, a list of side effects related to the treatment given, and wellness recommendations.
The Nassif Community Cancer Center is here to help with your cancer related concerns. We do offer a survivorship clinic. We have two licensed social workers that are available to talk with and help with resources in the community and to help coordinate counseling services. We do offer mediation classes monthly and exercise classes regularly. We have our Cancer Connections program that matches patients with others who have been through similar situations. We have an exercise specialist for one-on-one exercise and dietitians available to help with any diet concerns. The Cancer Center also offers reduced-cost massage, Healing Energy therapy, and acupuncture. If you would like to schedule an appointment for any of these services or would like further information, please call 319/558-4876. You can also get more information by visiting our website at www.communitycancercenter.org
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2021). Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines. Available at: Updated Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines | ACOG Last accessed December 10, 2021.
National Cancer Institute (2021). Cancer Stat Facts: Cervical Cancer. Available at: Cervical Cancer — Cancer Stat Facts Last accessed December 10, 2021.