Your health is not only about you. It’s also about your loved ones. Your spouse or partner. Your kids. Your parents. Your siblings. Your extended family. Your friends. Being around to take care of them means that you must take care of yourself. Taking charge of your health is not hard, and the beginning of a new year is a great time to make your health a priority. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Cancer is a disease where the cells in the body grow out of control. And when cancer starts in a woman’s reproductive organs, it’s called a gynecologic cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the five main types of gynecologic cancer.
But the great news is that the disease is preventable with vaccination and appropriate screenings. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and usually results in a long survival and good quality of life.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
The Human Papillomavirus also known as HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer. It’s a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can’t tell that you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.
Other things can increase your risk of cervical cancer—
What can I do to reduce my risk for cervical cancer?
- Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
- Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years).
- Having given birth to three or more children.
- Having several sexual partners.
One of the most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer is to get your well-woman visit or annual exam every year and have regular screening tests. “Establishing a relationship with a primary care provider or PCP is extremely important,” said Dr. Geroldean Dyse, Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. “Your primary care provider is your go-to person for medical advice and concerns. This person will help you navigate medical decisions, set health goals, identify and treat common medical conditions, and document your health habits and history. He/she can also make referrals to specialist for additional medical care.”
During your well-woman visit your medical provider will focus on preventive health. You will likely receive a full checkup, shots or vaccinations, screenings to check for diseases early when they may be easier to treat like diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease, and education and counseling to help you make informed health decisions.
What are the symptoms?
In the early stages of cervical cancer, you may not experience any symptoms which is why getting your well-woman visit annually is so important. It’s possible that you may not begin experiencing symptoms until you’ve reached the advanced stages of cervical cancer where treatment may not be as effective.
It may be helpful to write your symptoms down in a symptom diary to discuss with your medical provider if you notice any of the following signs:
Screenings for cervical cancer
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following your menstrual cycle.
- Menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual.
- Bleeding after sex, douching, or pelvic examination.
- Increased vaginal discharge.
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic, and/or back pain during sex.
During a Pap test, your medical provider scrapes and brushes cells from your cervix, which are then examined in a lab for abnormalities. A Pap test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, including cancer cells and cells that show changes that increase the risk of cervical cancer.
The HPV DNA test involves testing cells collected from the cervix for the infection with any of the types of HPV that are most likely to lead to cervical cancer. The test may be an option for women age 30 and older, or for younger women with an abnormal Pap test.
Where can I go for a well-woman visit, pap test, or HPV test?
The SeMRHI – Women’s Health Center is one of seventeen community health centers apart of Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. With a care team comprised of a gynecologist, a women’s health nurse practitioner, translators, a RN nurse manager, nurses, receptionists, and breast and cervical cancer coordinator, this health center takes a comprehensive approach to medical care. “We provide a multitude of resources for our patients at every health center location, so they won’t need to go anywhere else,” said Dr. Dyse.
SeMRHI – Women’s Health Center
The Women’s Health Center offers a full range of OB/GYN services, prenatal care, birth control, pap test, breast and pelvic exams, screenings for sexually transmitted infections, cryosurgery, and colposcopy. Community health centers like the Women’s Health Center are uniquely positioned to tackle the complex health needs of medically underserved patients regardless of the barriers to care they are facing. “Many patients face financial barriers, transportation barriers, and even language barriers when they try to access healthcare. Our goal is to always meet every patient where they are and provide them with what they need to lead healthy lives.”
Reducing health disparities in the community
Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. is consistently looking for new ways to reach patients in the communities that surround our health centers. Dr. Dyse said that community health centers are deeply rooted in outreach and community partnerships that help reduce health disparities. Several times throughout 2020 we will host a “Free Check-up Day” at our health centers in Hattiesburg, Brooklyn, Seminary, Sumrall, Lumberton, Picayune, Beaumont, and New Augusta. “We provide free preventive screenings, to give back to our patients including body mass index, clinical breast exams, cholesterol, dental screenings, hemoglobin, and HIV testing.” “The first “Free Check-up Day” of 2020 will be held on May 13, 2020, so mark your calendars said,” Will Harvey, Outreach Marketing Coordinator.
The leader in community health
“Whether through primary care services, specialty care, behavioral health, dental care, or ob-gyn services, our main goal at SeMRHI is to provide people with affordable quality primary and preventive healthcare in a patient centered, safe, compassionate environment,” said Dr. Dyse.
Across Mississippi, community health centers operate in 21 clusters like SeMRHI spread over 190 sites. More than 333,000 Mississippians had their healthcare needs met this way in years past, with SeMRHI providing care to more than 10 percent of them. SeMRHI receives what is called a “330 Grant” – federal funding allocated as part of the Public Health Service Act intended to help serve populations on the margins of healthcare. While not everyone qualifies for the discounted sliding fee scale, many do; however, SeMRHI cares for patients from all walks of life and accepts all payer sources.
The success of SeMRHI is largely attributed to its dedication to the community, meeting the needs of the community, and meeting the needs of its patients.
For more information about getting a pap test, HPV test, or about Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc. (SeMRHI) please visit www.semrhi.com.
Back to Top