Cervical Cancer Q&A with Dr. Sheli Milam

Dr. Sheli Milam discusses the importance of cervical cancer screenings and available options for cervical cancer treatment.

What is cervical cancer?

“Cervical cancer is like any other cancer. It’s changes in the cervical cells that start to grow and proliferate, and they don’t stop until they’ve done damage to the body.”

What causes cervical cancer?

“Human papillomavirus is primarily the cause for cervical cancer. There are some older population demographics that it’s not necessarily related to human papillomavirus, but in women under the age of 65, maybe even 70, it’s generally related to human papillomavirus.”

When to discuss cervical cancer screening?

“One of the biggest issues these days is Human papillomavirus, and a lot of people don’t know about Human papillomavirus. When you have been exposed to that, it is time to start discussing screening. Exposure is sexual intercourse or a sexual encounter where you’re exposed to that virus.”

What can men do about HPV?

“You can be tested for Human papillomavirus. There’s also the vaccine. It is being currently promoted for male use, which would lessen the time that it’s in your system, and therefore lessen your length of exposure to a female. So, that can help. It also helps males not to have penile cancer or anal cancer, which can be an issue with Human papillomavirus. So, there is a vaccine for males as well. It is recommended for teenage males up to age 24. It’s indicated after that, but sometimes it’s not covered by insurance.”

How do I lower my chance of cervical cancer?

“That’s a great question. Exposure to the virus is sexually transmitted, so limiting sexual partners is primary. The problem is most people don’t know they have the virus, so they are spreading it without intention. So, limited exposure and condom use is important. There is a vaccine that helps protect from but not necessarily completely prevent cervical cancer.”

What are the treatment options for cervical cancer?

“Cervical cancer can be very aggressive, so initially we try to catch it before it’s truly cancer. We try to catch it when it’s dysplasia. So, we include certain options like cryofreeze or leep procedure, which is where we remove the abnormal cells before they get to cancer. Once it becomes cancer, it’s very hard to stop that, usually with radiation and sometimes surgery.”

What are the screening options for cervical cancer?

“Pap smear is the gold standard. There is an HPV test that we can do now, so that is available. We don’t use that as a screening tool so much. The pap smear’s just one that we do all the time.”