Top 5 Things Every Woman Needs to Know About Cervical Health
with Gynecologic Oncologist Christine Kim, MD, FACOG, FACS
BY JESSICA BLASCO
When it comes to women’s health, cervical cancer may not always receive the attention it deserves, so we spoke with Christine Kim, MD, a board-certified and fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologist with LVPG Gynecologic Oncology, part of Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute, to answer the important questions on cervical health. Kim provides care at Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Pocono and LVH–Muhlenberg.
1. When should women begin having obstetrician gynecologist (OB-GYN) exams, and at what age can they stop?
In the U.S., we recommend women start Pap test screening at age 21 and repeating it every three years if results are normal. Starting at age 30, women have the option of having both a Pap and human papillomavirus (HPV) test. If both are normal, this screening can be spaced out to every five years. If a patient has had at least three previous normal Pap and HPV tests, then most women can stop further screening at age 65. Again, this depends on a patient testing regularly prior to that age and having sufficient normal screenings.
2. Why are regular cervical cancer screenings (Pap test and HPV test) important?
Sometimes there are issues that could be going on that may not be detected until a gynecologic check-up. With respect to cervical cancer screening, it is not the Pap tests themselves, but the frequency of them that has improved the ability to pick up precancerous changes. Additionally, we now have HPV testing that also helps guide which Pap tests are potentially more concerning than others. An OB-GYN checkup is also a good time for women to discuss private issues that they don’t wish to discuss with their friends or family members. For example, an OB-GYN provider will not balk at being asked about various types of contraception, vaginal dryness, vaginal discharge, vulvar itching, menstrual irregularities, pelvic pain, menopausal symptoms or other ‘private’ issues. It’s a great time to ask about the HPV vaccination or other aspects of female health, such as how much calcium to take.
3. What symptoms might a woman experience that indicate she should see her OB-GYN or primary care provider?
A woman should contact her provider if she is experiencing any abnormal bleeding, such as between menstrual periods, during intercourse or after menopause. Very heavy bleeding or prolonged bleeding, pelvic pain, vulvar itching, abnormal vaginal discharge, feeling a vaginal bulge, history of diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure, or any other pelvic issue are signs you should seek gynecologic care immediately. Ultimately, it’s important for patients to discuss how frequently they need gynecologic exams with their provider. There may be other reasons that OB-GYN checkups need to be performed more regularly.
4. If a woman needs GYN cancer care, how can a gynecologic oncologist help?
As a gynecologic oncologist, I can help distinguish what is potentially cancerous and what is not. I also will work with your gynecologist to determine the best treatment for conditions like complex ovarian masses, abnormal Pap tests or persistent abnormal bleeding.
A woman should see a gynecologic oncologist for further counseling if she has a strong family history of cancers, specifically ovarian, breast, endometrial or colon cancers. A gynecologic oncologist can assess a woman’s risks and discuss whether she’s a candidate for genetic testing, risk-reducing surgery or if she should be followed more closely. Your doctor may recommend a visit to a gynecologic oncologist based on your condition, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a cancer or a pre-malignant condition. You also may request an appointment on your own.
5. Why should women visit LVHN for their GYN care?
Our GYN providers are really knowledgeable, and they’re a great team of people who work well together. We can provide in depth evaluations of the cervix with colposcopies, and some offices offer outpatient loop electrosurgical excision procedures (LEEP), if needed.
Additionally, LVH–Pocono has received accreditation as a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG). The COEMIG designation is a professional recognition and distinction of surgeons. My colleagues, Radhika Ailawadi, MD, Shadi Kayed, MD, Vladimir Nikiforouk, MD, and Daying Zhang, MD, are all certified as COEMIG surgeons at LVH–Pocono. The hospital and physician accreditation is a testament to the exceptional work provided by these physicians and their supporting medical teams to patients in the Pocono community.
Learn more about Christine Kim, MD, at LVHN.org/Kim