J. Ben Wilkinson

J. Ben Wilkinson

Question: Why is cervical cancer screening important?

It is important to take a moment to recognize the critical role that cancer screening plays in the early detection and successful treatment of many cancers at Mission Hope Cancer Center. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered so many things in our lives, including how many people in our community seek healthcare.

While video-based visits can work for many healthcare needs, true cancer screening requires in-person visits for mammograms, PSA tests, gynecologic exams, colonoscopies, and low-dose CT scans. If you or a loved one has rescheduled a screening test because of the pandemic, please know that Dignity Health has created safe ways of seeing your physicians for these important tests.

Mission Hope wants to encourage and remind our community about the importance of gynecologic screening and also the very valuable role vaccination plays in the prevention of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer primarily affects younger women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and is almost universally driven by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The main methods that we as a community can use to decrease this cancer include encouraging administration of the HPV vaccine and obtaining regular Pap tests. Regular Pap smears have been linked with reduced cervical cancer cases and deaths.

These tests have changed what was once a very common cause of cancer-related death for American women to a much more treatable disease by finding cancers at much earlier stages.

Although we are currently talking a lot about the coronavirus vaccine, a cancer-related vaccine that is also important is the HPV vaccine that helps prevent gynecologic, head and neck, and anal cancers. This vaccine has been proven to be safe and is recommended for both men and women between the ages of 11 and 27. Even for slightly older women who are between the ages of 27 and 45 but have not yet received the HPV vaccine, it is worth talking about the HPV vaccine with your primary care provider.

Once a cervical cancer has been diagnosed, there are many treatment options that (especially if detected early) can have limited side effects and likely will still allow a good quality of life after diagnosis. To help physicians measure the amount of disease, we now very commonly obtain both an MRI of the pelvis, as well as a PET scan. Mission Hope Cancer Center has both of these imaging tests available for patients diagnosed with cancer in our community.

As with other cancers, the earlier we detect gynecologic cancer (and if it is determined on MRI and PET scans that it has not spread to other sites), we often can reduce or omit the number of treatments or treatment modalities that the patient might need.

The surgical, medical, and radiation oncology teams at Mission Hope are committed to treating every patient’s case individually and to offer nationally-recognized treatment strategies to minimize the chance of side effects, while maximizing the potential for cure. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cervical cancer, the Mission Hope cancer team is ready to help offer the latest treatment options for this and other gynecological cancers.

If you have questions regarding cancer screening, please call to talk to one of our Nurse Navigators at 805-219-HOPE (4673).

HAVE A QUESTION? This weekly column produced by Marian Cancer Care invites you to submit your questions to “Your Cancer Answers” at the following email address mariancancercare@dignityhealth.org

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