April 10, 2018

Ask the Doc – Pelvic Pain, Cancer Screenings for Women

Ellen Hearty, MD, of Mission Women’s Care, answers questions about cancer screenings for women and pelvic pain.

Q: How important are cancer screenings for women?

A: Cancer screening is an essential component of preventative health. Starting at age 21, women should see their primary care provider or OB/GYN to start getting Pap smears. The interval between Pap smears varies, depending on the patient’s age and prior Pap results. It could range from every year to every five years.

Mammogram screening for breast cancer has become more complicated because different national societies provide different recommendations. For example, some groups recommend mammograms starting at age 40, while other suggest waiting until age 50. The best way to approach this is for patients to make an appointment with their primary care provider or OB/GYN to evaluate their risk factors, focusing on family history, to help women decide the best screening protocol for herself.

Colon cancer screening should start for all people at age 50. Depending on the colonoscopy results, the procedure may need to be repeated every one to 10 years. Initial screening could be recommended earlier depending on medical and family history

Q: What are some of the causes of pelvic pain in women?

A: This is often a complex issue in women. Pelvic pain has many underlying causes, including infectious, hormonal, structural, muscular and psychological causes. Sometimes pain can be acute, chronic or cyclical (related to the menstrual cycle). It can be related to a history of abuse or trauma from birth. It can affect women at any age.

The provider’s goal is to make the correct diagnosis and provide the appropriate treatment. The challenge is that there can often be more than one issue contributing to the pain. Sometimes patients require multiple different treatments, including medications, counseling, physical therapy or surgery. It can often require care from multiple types of doctors, including OB/GYNs, primary care physicians, physical therapists or psychiatrists. Because of its complexity, it can often take more time to improve the patient’s symptoms.

To learn more about Mission Women’s Care, visit mission-health.org/womens.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Hearty, call (828) 659-3621.