By Carolyn Comeau
October’s pink ribbons signify Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but many aren’t aware that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. It may get less press, but cervical cancer, which occurs when cells grow abnormally in the cervix, is a disease every woman should be mindful of.
Prevention Is Key — and Easy
Brian Barrow, MD, an OB/GYN at Brevard’s Transylvania Women’s Care, said the biggest cervical cancer takeaway is this: It’s almost completely preventable — something that can’t be said about many other forms of cancer. “Nearly 100 percent are caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV,” Dr. Barrow said, adding that of numerous HPV strains, just two cause 75 percent of cervical cancers.
Fortunately, the HPV vaccine exists as the best HPV preventive. “The newest version covers nine strains, so get your daughter or son protected from the get-go,” said Dr. Barrow. “It’s like wearing a seatbelt — you probably won’t be in an accident, but you’re protected if you are.”
Dr. Barrow referred to the quick, virtually painless Pap test as the first line of defense against cervical cancer. “My patients often work, care for their families and fulfill countless other responsibilities, and put their own care on the backburner, but it is important to have a Pap and HPV test,” he said.
Cutting-Edge Surgery as a Treatment Option
“Cervical cancer, though rare, usually occurs 15-25 years after HPV infection, but gives hints it’s developing before typical symptoms of pain and bleeding emerge,” said Dr. Barrow. “If Pap results are questionable, we perform a colposcopy procedure, where we examine the cervix closely. If necessary, we get a tissue sample for testing. Biopsy results tell us whether we’re dealing with precancerous cells (dysplasia), cancer or nothing at all.”
“Treatment of cervical cancer is usually handled by GYN Oncology and includes hysterectomy, radiation and chemotherapy, depending on disease stage,” said Dr. Barrow. “We mostly do minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery now. It’s nothing like traditional hysterectomy, which required a lengthy hospitalization and recovery period.”
Dr. Barrow wants women to feel confident in entrusting their care to Transylvania Women’s Care. “We’re here no matter what your need,” said Dr. Barrow.
Brian Barrow, MD, is an OB/GYN at Brevard’s Transylvania Women’s Care.