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The Be Well Podcast - Cervical Cancer with Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC

Listen in or read from the partial transcript below as Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC with Women's Health at Skagit Regional Health discusses the symptoms of cervical cancer, risk factors and the importance of screenings.

Amanda Wilde (Host): The fourth most common cancer among women is cervical cancer, but it is treatable and even preventable. So today, we're talking about symptoms, risk factors and screening with Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC, Women's Health provider at Skagit Regional Health. This is Be Well with Skagit Regional Health. I'm Amanda Wilde. Dana, thank you for being here.

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to meet you.

Amanda Wilde (Host): What are the most common signs of cervical cancer?

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC: I love that that's the first question because it's one of the trickiest ones. Cervical cancer, often and usually doesn't actually have symptoms. That's part of why we rely so heavily on routine screening. There are some general warning signs, reasons that we want patients to come into the clinic and see us. But these can also be seen with so many of our routine gynecologic conditions. It's things like abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain after sex, bleeding after menopause, concerning vaginal discharge, something that's watery, has an odor and any type of general pain. There are no exact signs or symptoms we can link to cervical cancer. It's generally just these typical symptoms we experience that can then lead to something more serious.

Amanda Wilde (Host): But you may have it and may not even know it, it sounds like.

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC: That's often the case. We heavily rely on routine screening to be able to identify cervical cancer and pre-cancerous changes.

Amanda Wilde (Host): Then cervical cancer, it sounds like, is detected more through screening than it is through symptoms. How do you screen for cervical cancer?

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC: Cervical cancer screenings are also called Pap tests. People are familiar with hearing that a Pap smear. The Pap test is a super highly effective screening tool we have, it's done through a pelvic exam. It takes a small sample of cervical cells and we send that off to a lab, which allows us to identify these really early abnormal markers. Sometimes that can be pre-cancerous cervical changes. Sometimes that can be just general inflammation or cells that don't quite look right. Since the Pap test was introduced, we've really been able to get better with screening, identifying these changes way before anything concerning comes onto the screen. But again, it does require people to come in and having an appointment every three to five years or so.

Amanda Wilde (Host): I was just going to ask, how often are those Pap tests recommended?

Dana Fuqua, DNP, WHNP-BC: Our guidelines continue to change. So, that's one of the things we often end up talking about when you come into an annual or a well-woman exam or a routine GYN exam, is that evidence is constantly evolving. As of right now, our main screening recommendations are based on a couple of different organizations. There's the United States Preventative Service Task Force, USPSTF. They're a great resource for screening and vaccination recommendations. Also, of course, the American Cancer Society. These organizations sort of come up yearly to talk about the evidence and put together a recommendation. And what it's been for the last two or three years or so is everyone beginning Pap testing at age 21 and between the ages of 21 and 29, coming in for Pap tests every three years. Of course, if there's an abnormal, then earlier follow-up than that. And for folks who are over 30 and between 30 and 65, Pap tests every five years, again, unless there are abnormalities. Over 65 is the time that we start talking about considering exiting Pap testing. But again, as is a common theme, only if there's no history of abnormalities and generally within the last 10 to 15 years is what we're looking for.

To listen to the rest of this podcast or read the full transcript, visit  here.