Tag Archives: cervical cancer

Do I Still Need To Get Pap Smears? ASK AN OBGYN

Dear SuzyKnew! A few weeks ago, I heard on the news that the Pap smear may not be used anymore and that there is a better test to detect cervical cancer.  What’s the deal?


Sorry, no professional body of doctors has recommended getting rid of the Pap smear.  So you are not off the hook!  But there is a new test that you may get at your next annual exam.

For decades, the Pap smear has been the gold standard.  You know the one- during a pelvic exam; your doctor takes a swab of cells from your cervix.  These cells are sent to a lab for processing and an abnormal result means that you could be at risk for developing cervical cancer.  An abnormal result means you return for more testing and if needed your doctor takes a larger sample of tissue.  But there is a new kid on the block- a test recently approved by the FDA that specifically looks for the presence and type of HPV virus.

 Why this new test? 

With any test or treatment, doctors want to be as specific as possible so that they can target the treatment and rule out other possible causes of illness.   Because we know that there is a clear link between cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV), and almost all cervical cancer is caused by specific genotypes of HPV, doctors are now thinking, “why not add a cervical screening test that looks specifically at HPV?”   Guidelines from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that women aged 21-65 could have both the HPV and the Pap test when they have a cervical cancer screening every three to five years.  There is no test to determine whether you are HPV positive or negative (unlike an HIV test), but the HPV cervical cancer screening can help detect and therefore reduce the cervical cancers caused by HPV.

HPV is an STI?

Yes. Approximately 30 strains of HPV are spread through sexual contact.  In fact, its one of the most common STIs.   The CDC estimates that 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives. Rates of HPV are higher for women under 25, minorities and those with multiple partners.

 If I have HPV will I get cervical cancer?

No. There are hundreds of strains of HPV, and most HPV strains are harmless, at worst causing warts on the hands.  Most resolve on their own with no treatment.  But a few specific strains of HPV are more dangerous than others, and we also know which strains of HPV (namely 16 and 18) are directly linked to the development of cancer. HPV can cause cervical and other cancers including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, or anus. It can also cause cancer in the back of the throat, including the base of the tongue and tonsils (called oropharyngeal cancer).

SO what can I do to prevent cervical cancer?

There are three ways to prevent HPV and lower your chances of contracting cervical cancer:

  •  Get Vaccinated. HPV vaccine is safe and effective. It’s given in three shots over six months; it is important to get all three doses. It’s only effective in young people.  All boys and girls ages 11 or 12 years should get vaccinated. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for males through age 21 and for females through age 26, if they did not get vaccinated when they were younger.
  •  Get screened for cervical cancer. Routine screening for women aged 21 to 65 years old can prevent cervical cancer. Next time you go for your annual exam, ask your health care provider if they are using both the Pap smear and an HPV-specific test.  You can share the information you have learned from Suzy Knew!
  • Have safe (protected) sex. HPV can be spread through all types of sex, vaginal, anal oral sex.

Take care.


Dr Drai Recaps The New Pap Smear Schedule

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, the Christmas season is officially here. Time to focus on shopping for that special gift and getting all those kisses underneath the mistletoe. But, soon we’ll be rolling into the New Year, and well… ladies, what about preparing for our annual gynecological exam, which has always included a pap smear?  Recent studies show cervical cancer rates are higher in Black women and older women than in other women.

Guess what: OBGYNs have switched up the pap smear schedule on us. Figuring out how often we’re supposed to get a pap smear isn’t as easy and straight forward as it used to be.Below America’s favorite OBGYN, Dr. Drai, breaks it down for us, explaining how often we need one of these tests to screen for cervical cancer during our lifetime. For more on Dr. Drai see DrDrai.com.


  • Age 21: Ladies- It’s time to get your 1st PAP smear. MOMs- NO more making your daughter get a PAP smears when she becomes sexually active. 
  • Ages 21-29: Get your PAP smear every 3 years. If anything is Abnormal,  you have to get your PAP every year. It’s okay- you know you want to visit Dr. Drai anyways.
  • Ages 30-65: Get your PAP Smear every 3 years OR your DOC can order a PAP Smear + HPV (Human Papillavirus) testing every 5 years. If anything is Abnormal, you have to see Dr. Drai again in a year. 
  • Age > 65: Great news! No more PAP Smears IF you have had 3 normal smears within 10 years. YAY! 
  • #GYNEGirls who have had TOTAL (cervix was removed) hysterectomies for non-cancer: No more PAP smears for YOU.
  • #GYNEGirls who have had cervical cancer:  You have to get your PAP smears for at least 20 years. 

Abnormal PAP smear?  Don’t be SCARED. Let me explain myself. If your smear comes back Abnormal,  you have to get a colposcopy. It’s NO BIG DEAL! You come to the office and I look at your cervix through a microscope. I put vinegar on the cervix and look for changes. Abnormal cells turn white. If Dr. Drai sees something Abnormal on your cervix, you will have a biopsy done- a piece of the cervix is cut off. It’s a small piece. No worries. I send the biopsy away to that same DOC so she can tell me if cancer is there or not. Most likely not…

I have told you this ONE before. HPV causes cervical cancer. Therefore #GYNEGirls If you don’t have HPV, you are not likely to get cervical cancer. This is the reason why you don’t have to get a PAP smear yearly anymore. YAY! You will get use to it. Don’t worry. You still have to come in to see Dr. Drai every year anyway. Your DOC needs to check your breasts for lumps AND feel your ovaries to make sure they are normal in size. For me, I ALSO need to check on you to make sure your mind, body, and spirit is still in sync. Life can be hard. You always need a counselor to chat with.


SuzyKnew! reports regularly on sexual and reproductive health issues important to Black women, and we want you to keep it sexy and healthy during the holiday season.


Am I At Risk For Cervical Cancer? ASK AN OBGYN

Dear SuzyKnew!

I am 25 years old and wonder if I’m at risk for cervical cancer. I know there is a vaccine that can prevent cervical cancer but I heard it’s just for teens.   I also read the SuzyKnew! piece on Black women dying from reproductive health issues more often than white women.  What’s your advice?    C. Johnson 


Dear SK Reader,

Yes! Black women do die more often than white women from cervical cancer, according to the Black Women’s Health Imperative.  40% of the 2,000 Black women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year will die. Most deaths are among women who have not been screened within the last 5 years. This is unacceptable.  Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, and women can be screened for it with routine Pap tests

Yes! There are vaccines that protect both men and women against the HPV virus, the main cause of cervical cancer. One is called Gardasil and the other Cervarix. It is given to young people way before they are sexually active so that their immune system has enough time to build up protection against the virus BEFORE they are exposed to HPV.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women and 7th most common cancer in the world. It is more common in developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, where rates can be up to 3 times higher than the world average.

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection and also causes cancer of the anus and penis.  HPV is also linked to oral cancers.  Although we are very vulnerable to this disease, what recently caught our attention about HPV was when Actor Michael Douglas  spoke about his HPV-positive throat cancer.  The Huffington Post came out with an infographic on the risk of HPV-related cancers for women and men. The American Cancer Society, knows that oral cancer from HPV on the rise for both women and men and recommends being vaccinated. As of 2004, 72 percent of oral cancer tumors were HPV-positive — up from 16 percent of tumors in the 1980’s.  Why? HPV is out there and is easily spread.   This is particularly concerning for young people that want to preserve their virginity and think they wont get an STI from oral sex. Wrong! Not only can you get an STI from oral sex, but also potentially cancer.

So what can we do to prevent HPV?

1)     Get the vaccine early.  The CDC recommends the HPV vaccine for preteen girls and boys at age 11 or 12 years.  If you missed the early window, girls can get the vaccine between ages 13 through 26 years and for boys ages 13 through 21 years. So, lady, get vaccinated today!

2)     Get your annual Pap Smear.  Traditionally, our main weapon against cervical cancer has been early detection (though annual exams and Pap Smears) and once detected, treatment.

3)     Use a barrier method (condoms) for all sex- oral, anal and vaginal to prevent exposure and spread of the virus.

SuzyKnew! Ladies:  We need to spread the word about the HPV vaccine!   Rates of vaccine uptake is still pretty low and there are a lot of unfounded myths surrounding the vaccine. According to the CDC, in 2011, only 35 percent of girls ages 13-17 received all three shots in the vaccination series, and only 30 percent of women ages 19-26 had received the vaccine.

Why aren’t more people getting the vaccine?  I believe that there has not been enough press about the vaccine, which is why I was thrilled that you wrote in.   Some doctors believe that it’s because you have to have three separate shots over a six-month period.  That can be hard for some folks to schedule, but doctors are used to playing catch up on a vaccine series.  Also, some conservative groups have been spreading the message that giving the vaccine to young people will increase their likelihood of having sex.  Please, chile…  Education is the key here.   Both my son and daughter will get the vaccine.  Will you and your children?

Keep it sexy!

Keep it healthy!

Is It True Black Women Are More Likely To Die From Reproductive Health Issues Than Other Women?

Today, I attended the funeral of a friend who died from cervical cancer. She was young. She was educated. She ate right and led a Christian life. She was Black.

She also had regular pap smears.

All my friend’s good education, good eating, and praying couldn’t protect her from death.

Although I work in reproductive health, I’m not an expert on cervical cancer. So, I went home after the funeral after a long, late night train ride and at 1 am I googled cervical cancer. One site said Black women were twice as likely to die from cervical cancer than white women but more likely to get a diagnostic pap smear. Another site said African women were especially vulnerable to cervical cancer, compared to women from other developing countries.

Then I thought about breast cancer.  Well, we all know in the US, black women are less likely to get breast cancer but more likely to die from it.  We also know breast cancer is doing a lot of damage in the developing world – especially Africa. Then I moved on to thinking about abortions: which women get abortions and which ones die from botched abortions. The answer: black women. In the US, black women are more likely to get an abortion than all other women. Abortion is relatively safe in US but in most African countries, legal abortion is not widely available, resulting in many African women obtaining unsafe clandestine abortions and suffering from complications, including death.

Whether you live in LA, Lagos, or London, or, Memphis, Martinique or Mauritania if you’re a black woman, you’re more likely to die from these fairly common reproductive health issues.

Is anyone studying this issue? Does anyone care? That’s my next question.

Thoughts anyone…?