Talking about human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer with anyone can be difficult or awkward, and your doctor is no exception. However, it’s extremely important to be forthcoming when your health is on the line. Advocating for yourself with your doctor allows you to address any concerns you have around uncomfortable topics affecting your well-being.
With 14 million new cases a year, HPV is America’s most common sexually transmitted disease, including via oral sex, as the virus is transmitted skin-to-skin. Nine in 10 men and eight in 10 women who are sexually active risk getting an HPV virus in their lifetime. Most human papillomavirus viruses have direct links to cervical cancer. Preventing and treating HPV is crucial in mitigating risks for developing cervical cancer. Whether you know you have HPV, are interested in screening, or are wondering about vaccinations, talking to your doctor can be a life-saver. Remember, you are your best advocate when it comes to prevention.
1. Find a doctor you trust
Your doctor is your health care ally. They should not judge you, make you feel awkward or ashamed when talking about vulnerable subjects. If they do, make sure you talk to the appropriate staff and ask to see a new doctor. Don’t be afraid to look around for a primary care provider who will go out of their way to make you feel relaxed––it’s OK to search for the right doctor that makes you feel comfortable.
With trust comes the ability to be honest with your doctor. Bring any concerns you have to the table. The more information you arm yourself with about HPV and cervical cancer, the more your doctor will understand your health care needs. Remember, doctors are ready to talk with you about treatment and preventative care, no matter how sensitive the subject is. Talking with your doctor regularly about cervical health is the easiest way to make informed decisions around your body.
2. Prepare for your appointment
Prioritize your concerns on paper by writing them down. It’s easy to get tripped up when you’re worried or shy about discussing delicate subjects with any doctor, even with one who makes you feel comfortable. Tell the nurse and your doctor at the beginning of the appointment that you came with questions, so they give you the attention you deserve. Don’t be afraid to ask questions around lifestyle, preventative care, and risks.
3. Build a good patient-doctor relationship
The average doctor’s appointment is only 13 to 16 minutes long, so there’s often not a lot of time to cover every topic in a single visit. This makes it essential you advocate for yourself when it comes to talking to your doctor about HPV and cervical health. When you advocate for yourself, you help set expectations that build a strong foundation for a good patient-doctor relationship. You can advocate for yourself with your doctor by asking questions, bringing a friend, and more.
A 2014 study showed that patients who have a positive relationship with their doctors are more likely to have better health outcomes with issues including diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Communication is instrumental to getting your health on track.
4. Talk prevention
More than 13,000 U.S. women get diagnosed with cervical cancer, annually. Luckily, it’s become one of the most preventable forms of cancer. HPV vaccines like Gardasil and Cervarix have shown to decrease cervical cancer risk substantially. The best time to get the vaccination is between ages 11 and 12. The next best time is now.
Additionally, the CDC recommends women start getting Pap tests at age 21. Also known as a Pap screen or simply, Pap. Pap tests help doctors detect pre-cancer cells that become dangerous if untreated. If tests are negative, you’ll probably only need a Pap every three years. After age 30, you should ask your doctor if you should get an HPV test, a Pap test, or both. If you’re older than 65, please consult with your doctor.
Here are a few questions to ask your doctor about prevention:
- Should I be tested for HPV infection?
- Should I receive the HPV vaccine?
- What risks should I be aware of?
- How often should I have a Pap test?
5. Discussing a positive cervical cancer diagnosis
More than 13,000 women in the US are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Women ages 35 and 55 years old account for half of cervical cancer diagnoses, while approximately one-fifth are attributed to women over the age of 65.
Receiving a cervical cancer diagnosis is one of the more challenging situations a woman may face in her lifetime, but no one has to do it alone. Work with your doctor to understand your diagnosis and to start learning what you’ll need to know about cervical cancer.
Here are some questions to ask your doctor if you have to confront a diagnosis:
- What is my diagnosis, and what does it mean?
- Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
- Do I need to see a oncologist or a gynecologist? Both?
- How soon will my treatment need to begin?
Ultimately, if you have cervical cancer, your doctor will most likely be referring you out for oncological and/or gynecological care immediately. Primary care doctors are often the first stop once a diagnosis is received, but seeing the right specialists needs to be a priority.
Conversations about your well-being shouldn’t have to be anxiety inducing, but we all have matters that are difficult to open up about. We encourage you to take action by talking to your doctor about HPV and cervical cancer screening, as well as prevention and vaccinations––the risks are too great to not broach the topic with the people who can help you most.
We at NWPC care about every aspect of your health, no matter how sensitive it may be. Schedule an appointment with one of our understanding and professional physicians today.