Ask Dr. Pat · Health

Cervical Cancer and Pap Smear Guidelines

Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Dear Dr. Pat:

My sister who lived in a rural area in the Midwest just died at 56 from cervical cancer. A local general practitioner told her several years ago that women who were healthy and had only one lifetime sexual partner and never had a bad Pap smear didn’t need regular Pap smears after 50 based on new information from government guidelines. She didn’t fit the “profile” of a woman who would get cervical cancer. She was totally healthy and had no bad habits. However, while she was monogamous, it turns out that her husband was not. She did not know that she had contracted HPV, a sexually transmitted disease from her husband at some point in their long marriage.

So my sister, who had to travel two hours each way to see a gynecologist, just stopped going for those visits at 50. At some point she began to have vaginal discharge and saw the local GP for creams and antibiotics. Then she had some vaginal staining. When she saw a gynecologist for this bleeding, she had a Pap smear that was abnormal. A special kind of test was done in the office with biopsies of the cervix, which showed that she had invasive cervical cancer. She had major surgery and chemotherapy and had a horrible death. Her husband left town (really) after his affairs were recognized and everyone in the family knew that he had given her this virus that had caused her cervical cancer. She had only her family and friends to care for her. It was heartbreaking. I am writing because I am furious that my sister died because she believed that after 50 she didn’t need Pap smears anymore due to new government guidelines. My sister would be alive today if she had gone to the gynecologist for her regular Pap smear.  

Kathy

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  • Holly March 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    Thank you, Dr. Pat for reminding us that death from cervical cancer is preventable if you take care to see your Doctor. I have a friend whose sister died of it, and it was so tragic.
    I hope that changes to the ACA will not discourage women from seeking preventative care!

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