We now interrupt the regularly scheduled bitching and posting for an important Public Service Announcement about your Lady Parts.
WAIT! Don't get nervous- it isn't pervy! I promise! Really, really, PLEASE just take a minute to read this because it is incredibly important for you, your daughters, your friends, your family members and every woman you know. Did I convince you to keep reading? Okay- Great! Let's get started!!!
I am a trained Cytotechnologist, which in a nutshell means I look at Pap Smears (amongst other things) through microscopes to diagnose infections, dysplasia and cancer. So I'm not making this stuff up... this is a truly qualified position I am taking and I have spent years learning, researching, studying and seeing this stuff every day. It is SUPER important and nothing to be taken lightly.
With that said, here are the 4 most important things I can tell you about your Lady Part Health:
1.) Get your annual Pap Smear (unless you've had 3 negatives in a row, in which case you can get one every 3 years barring no changes in sexual partners - or your partner's partners- or other health concerns, but don't take my word for it, consult with your doctor). I know it isn't fun to be all spread eagle in the stirrups and the speculum and the general awkwardness of it all- but this is one of the VERY few tests out there that can detect pre-cancerous cells, and we all know early detection is key in treating anything. It is easy, always covered by your insurance and has the ability to save a lot of drama, fear and uncomfortable/invasive procedures in the long run.
2.) Get the HPV Vaccination. It's pharmaceutical name is Gardasil and it is a quadravalent (4) vaccine administered 3 times at specific intervals. If you are over the age of 26 (which most of us are) it won't work for you (Why? Because likely you have already been exposed to at least one form of the HPV virus so it is not effective anymore)... but please, please consider getting it for your daughters (any time after the age of 9, but it must be before the onset of sexual activity). I know that there are some moral/religious/sex ed issues but hear me out:
This vaccine guards against four types of the (very common) HPV virus. The two most common types (6 and 11) are responsible for what are commonly known as genital warts and result in low-grade cervical dysplasia diagnoses on pap smears. These infections usually clear on their own with age, but since the methods of transmission of these viruses aren't 100% known, you can never be too safe. More importantly, the two high risk types (16 and 18) are almost always responsible for the development of cervical cancer and manifests itself early in the form of moderate and severe dysplasia on pap smears. You read that right: IT IS A VACCINE THAT PREVENTS CANCER. That, my friends, is an incredibly big deal. If you keep only this fact in mind, I hope it will be enough to convince you to vaccinate your daughters.
I understand that there are fears that having this vaccine will encourage girls to have unprotected sex and that giving what is essentially a STD vaccine is only embracing and potentially condoning sexuality at an early age (since the vaccine is generally recommended around ages 9-12). I maintain that if you teach your children well, discuss the benefits of abstinence, sex with protection, waiting until you are in a serious relationship- whatever your flavor of sex ed might be- this vaccine will do nothing to erode your teachings. And more importantly, should your child choose to go against what you taught her, she will be protected from a potentially deadly infection. Whatever your moral take is on teen sex, sex before marriage, etc... I hope your stand on preventing cancer is stronger.
3.) Protect yourself! Use condoms. Don't have sex with strangers. And oral sex won't prevent you from getting this either! Men are common carriers (that makes them sound so dirty, doesn't it?) and do not often experience the same manifestations of acquiring this virus. This means you likely won't know if a man has HPV as there are no outward symptoms for most. So never, ever, ever take chances and ALWAYS use protection.
4.) Follow up. Seriously folks. If you get an abnormal result on your pap smear there are 2 things you must do. First, don't feel bad or ashamed or anything else silly like that. Like I said, transmittal of this disease is still largely misunderstood. It is common and treatable and doesn't have to be a big ordeal. Second, an of the upmost importance. If you get an abnormal result, stick to the follow-up regimen your Doctor prescribes. Sometimes these are repeat Paps in 6 months, sometimes they are biopsies, sometimes they are bigger procedures. DO NOT SKIP THESE. Seriously.
As Cytotechnologists and Pathologists, we rely on these follow up tests to monitor the progression or recession of the disease. HPV infections generally worsen in very predictable ways, if you do your part of the follow up, the chances are high that the disease won't get so bad that it requires radical medical treatment (chemotherapy, etc). Hysterectomies are common when the disease progresses (either to cancer or the severest precancerous lesions), but look at it this way. As hard as it is to give up that part of you, there are so, so, so many cancer patients that can't live without the diseased organ (lung, liver, bladder, etc.) and must suffer as the disease continues to grow. Being able to remove the organ in question will rid one of years of invasive follow up tests and continual worry.
I know we are all super, uber aware of the other gender specific cancers out there- particularly breast cancer, but I encourage you all to keep your lady bits in mind when being pro-active about your health. At the risk of getting to graphic on y'all, if ANYTHING abnormal starts going on down there? Go visit your Gynecologist and get it checked out. Post Haste. Abnormal bleeding especially. It isn't anything to be embarrassed or ashamed about. It is your body telling you, "HEY! Get me checked out! Something isn't right!"
So, with that, I endeth my Public Service Announcement regarding your Girl Parts. Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any specific questions about this- I'd be glad to share any knowledge I have or direct you to some great resources! (tuckerandswiss at yahoo dot com) Now, go get your Paps taken care of Ladies!