Show Yourself Some Love: Get Regular Vaginal Screens

March is women’s history month, and as a practicing OBGYN for over 30 years, I’ve been honored to spend my career educating women on how their bodies really work. This past year in particular, women across the country and throughout the world have taken a more active role in ensuring their overall wellbeing. I write to affirm that health is an area that women should not overlook.

In this first post of my two-part series, I wish to highlight the importance of women’s health screenings to monitor your vaginal and cervical health.

As an OBGYN, I have extensive experience with monitoring and treating cervical cancer with my patients. While cancer is a risk for anyone, there are steps you can take to prompt early detection and, in turn, offer yourself the best chance for successful recovery.

Early detection of cervical cancer and its precancerous states is simple, cost-effective, and non-invasive. In short, no woman should die from this form of cancer.

Despite efforts to raise awareness of how to prevent cervical cancer, there are still gaps in knowledge and that means some women don’t get screened early enough. While the disease is usually slow to develop, it can at times advance so aggressively that early detection proves futile. For these reasons, cervical cancer still claims lives.

Despite breakthrough advances in cancer screening and treatment, there is room for improvement to ensure that more cancers are prevented. While cancer treatments can help prolong quality and years of life, they can be unpleasant and don’t guarantee a cure. In fact, sometimes new cancer risks arise in patients as a result of a previous cancer and related treatment.

Fortunately, cervical cancer is – and long has been – an exception to that rule.

The famous Pap smear – the gold standard for women’s health screening for several decades – has helped women detect abnormal cells, pre-cancer, and in effect, helped prevent full-blown cervical cancer diagnoses in thousands of patients. More recently, screening for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common and prevalent sexually transmitted disease known to cause cervical cancer, has improved and helped prevent cervical cancer deaths by ensuring earlier detection of cancer or pre-cancer.

All women who are or have been sexually active should undergo cervical cancer screening. Women with repeatedly normal Pap smears and negative HPV testing can safely go three years between tests, which is an enormous departure from previous standards of care.

Monitoring a woman’s vaginal microbiome is that much more important for women who use contraception that contains synthetic “hormones,” which I call hormonal mimics or endocrine disruptors. These kinds of contraceptives have an impact on cervical cancer and the vaginal microbiome.

Cervical cancer has taken the lives of women in the prime of their lives, as it typically strikes women at a younger age than does many other cancers. Women in their forties are the largest affected age group.

By blending the best of great lifestyle choices with screening for early detection, all women will have the best chance for a cervical cancer-free life.

Felice Gersh, MD,  is a multi-award-winning, board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist and the founder of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine in California. Felice was educated at Princeton University and USC and has more than 40 years of experience in all matters relating to women’s health. Her main area of expertise is hormonal management and, specifically, polycystic ovary syndrome. Felice is a prolific lecturer, writer, podcaster, and broadcaster on ZubiaLive and is soon to finish her first book. You can follow her blog and connect with her on Twitter.