We have to talk about this! We simply can’t afford to feel uncomfortable or squeamish any longer.
Ovarian, uterine, vaginal, vulvar and cervical cancers. We need to get over any sensitivity we may have about saying the words out loud and discussing this openly because it’s the one way we can immediately help ourselves and bring about positive change. Something sinister is attacking women of all ages, and the best defense we have against it right now is awareness. You can save your own life and the lives of your daughters and granddaughters by becoming an advocate for your own good health and by starting dialogs with all the women you love.
Up to now, discussing gynecologic issues has been relegated to a rather limited inner circle that probably has included your doctor or trusted gal pals. The problem with being discreet, however, is that accurate and plentiful information about gynecologic cancers hasn’t saturated the female population sufficiently enough to improve survival rates.
Think of it this way: A decade or so ago we didn’t see NFL football players wearing pink socks during the month of October, or bumper stickers professing that we should “Save the Ta-Ta’s,” or pink ribbons prominently displayed on food items in the grocery store to call attention to breast cancer.
The whole world is talking about breasts today, and no one seems to be uncomfortable with it any longer because our new level of awareness is saving women’s lives. Well, we have the same kind of opportunity to raise our collective consciousness about female reproductive parts and educate women about how to protect themselves against gynecologic cancers.
First of all, there are a number of misperceptions about what a woman needs to do to be proactive about her gynecological health. Cervical cancer is the only cancer that can be detected by a Pap smear, and most women don’t know that. There are no screening tests for ovarian, uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers, other than annual physical exams, and these diseases can and do affect women and girls of all ages.
The misperception that only older women need be concerned is false. Girls and young women are being afflicted as well and, unfortunately, few have sufficient information to know when to be concerned. This is exactly why we need to get prevention and awareness information into our discussions so everyone knows when to seek professional help.
Another misperception is that an annual Pap smear is all you need to do to ensure good gynecological health. Your doctor should, as a matter of course, be performing a combination pelvic/rectal exam along with a Pap smear during your annual visit because this is one way to determine if there are significant changes to your ovaries or other developing abnormalities.
Becoming proactive is vitally important because the symptoms of ovarian cancer, for example, can be subtle or can mimic other conditions. As ovarian is the most deadly of all gynecologic cancers, time is of the essence because most women are diagnosed when the chance of survival for five years is only about 30 percent. However, with early detection, that figure improves to a survival rate of 93 percent, so awareness of your own body and symptoms can help save your life.
Mature women need to maintain vigilant gynecological health. Although it’s rare, women who have had their reproductive organs removed can develop gynecologic cancer, thus substantiating the need for regular exams and keen awareness throughout our lifetime.
For those who are underinsured or not insured at all it can be a financial challenge to pay for doctor visits, but figure it out. Make sacrifices. Slacking off on your exercise routine or falling off your diet plan may not be life threatening, but ignoring gynecological health can be. Again, that is why we need to bring this issue forward and keep talking about it to ensure women are listening and taking a proactive role in their own good health.
At the very least, love yourself enough to get smart about gynecologic cancers and then talk to your daughters and granddaughters about being their own best health advocates. After all, we’re going to be chatting anyway, so we might as well offer ourselves up as role models and leave a legacy of good gynecological health for future generations.
Too many women and girls are dying because of a lack of information, and that is unacceptable. We simply must talk about this. There’s no need to feel awkward or embarrassed about this any longer. After all, cancer isn’t discreet or shy.
To learn more from the CDC’s “Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer” campaign, click here.
Watch a short CDC video.
Debby Donovan is Communications Manager for the Ovarian Cancer Alliance of Florida.