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Cervical health can’t be ignored

Women hear it all the time: cancer screenings save lives.

Often the focus is on breast exams and mammograms. And while those are critically important for early detection, cervical health can’t be ignored.

Paula Watt is director of the Sullivan Center at Clemson University. The center is a provider with the Best Chance Network, a program that gives eligible women the opportunity to be screened for breast and cervical cancer in Oconee, Pickens, Greenville and Anderson counties. Watt said women, especially moms, may be inclined to skip out on preventative care for themselves, especially if paying for health care is an issue.

“We are limited by our patients,” she said. “We have so many needs and we have a new mobile unit coming. What’s worse is to have the funding opportunity and we can’t get the patients. We’ve got lots of women who could benefit from this.”

Watt said cervical cancer is often silent.

“There are no symptoms,” she said. “It can be slow growing.”

In some cases of cervical cancer, patients may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding.

“The earlier it is caught, the easier it is to treat,” Watt said. “We have those treatments available also.”

The American Cancer Society estimated that in the United States in 2015 approximately 12,900 new cases of invasive cervical cancer would be diagnosed and approximately 4,100 women would die from cervical cancer. Since the Pap test, which screens for precancerous cervical changes and cervical cancer, was introduced 30 years ago, the death rate has been cut in half.

Women who smoke or who have had multiple sexual partners are at increased risk for cervical cancer. The greatest risk factor is infection with human papilloma virus, which is very common.

“Young people clear (the virus) very well,” Watt said. “There are over a hundred (HPV) viruses.”

A vaccine is now available that protects again several HPV types that cause as many as 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends it for children ages 11 – 12.

Watt said that “in between age” when women are sexually active and younger than age 65 is a critical time for cervical cancer screening.

“It’s an easy test,” she said. “It detects it easily and it’s a relatively easy treatment. Our biggest heartbreak is when we get someone in and they haven’t had anything done and they have full-blown cancer.”

Busy mothers aren’t off the hook.

“Moms do lots and lots of things and take care of everybody else first,” Watt said.

Find out more

Mobile clinics are scheduled across the Upstate. Women can call the Sullivan Center at 864-656-3076 to learn more about financial eligibility and clinic locations.