Apparently You Don’t Need an Annual Pap Smear Anymore

spasulka

I thought I needed to do this uncomfortable procedure once a year until a doctor informed me otherwise.

This article was originally published at Zelda Lily

I hate Pap smears. Absolutely hate
them. Not just because of their invasive nature, but because I have
what doctors like to call a "sensitive cervix." While most people just
feel some pressure when that awful metal contraption clamps down on
them, I feel pain. Intense pain. And I feel even more pain when they go
in there with that stupid broom thing. The doctors and nurses all
assure me that there is nothing wrong with me; I’m just one of those
rare souls who’s especially sensitive cervically. I had my annual Pap
smear nearly 12 hours ago. I’m still a little sore.

My appointment was with a brand new doctor, since I just moved here
to Seattle a year ago. As I sat whimpering in her office and warning
her to be gentle and quick, she said, "Well, dear, after this one,
you’ve graduated to the next level of Pap smear. You only need it every
two years now." I asked her to repeat that. She explained that they
know a lot more about cervical cancer these days, and that it’s caused
almost exclusively by the HPV virus (typically transmitted sexually),
and apparently once you’re over the age of 26, you’re good to go with
screenings further between. Her explanation for this was that your risk
of HPV increases with the number of sexual partners you have. As women
get older, she said, they have fewer sexual partners, so their risk of
infection is lesser. "If you only have sex with one guy every one or
two years, you’re fine just getting tested every couple of years."

I was a little offended by this. Like, I’d already told her I didn’t have a boyfriend, but do I look
like someone who only gets laid once every two years? (No.) I mean, I’m
delighted at the prospect of not going in for this shit every year,
but, especially after British reality star Jade Goody died of cervical
cancer last month, I’m hyper-aware of it and I want to make sure I’m
protecting my health — even if it involves some extreme discomfort. So
I did a little research of my own when I got home.

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I found a fascinating article published by the New York Times
earlier this month. It discusses a new DNA test that does a better —
and earlier — job of detecting HPV, and it will likely replace the Pap
smear. Not just that, but it could likely mean you only have to get
your cervix swabbed once every 3, 5 or even 10 years, depending on
which expert is asked. GOOD NEWS FOR ME!

Their optimism is based on an eight-year study of
130,000 women in India financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates
Foundation and published last week in The New England Journal of
Medicine. It is the first to show that a single screening with the DNA
test beats all other methods at preventing advanced cancer and death.

The Indian study, begun in 1999, divided 131,746 healthy women ages
30 to 59 from 497 villages into four groups. One group, the control,
got typical rural clinic care: advice to go to a hospital if they
wanted screening. The second got Pap smears, the third got
flashlight-vinegar visualization, and the fourth got a DNA test, then
made by Digene, which is now owned by Qiagen. The company did not pay
for or donate to the study, its authors said.

After eight years, the visualization group had about the same rates
of advanced cancer and death as the control group. The Pap-smear group
had about three-fourths the rates, and the DNA test had about half.

Significantly, none of the women who were negative on their DNA test
died of cervical cancer. “So if you have a negative test, you’re good
to go for several years,” Dr. Blumenthal said.

The study’s chief author, Dr. Rengaswamy Sankaranarayanan of the
International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, said,
“With this test, you could start screening women at 30 and do it once
every 10 years.”

There’s some hesitancy to adopt less frequent screening in the U.S.,
because doctors use the annual Pap smears as a way to get women into
their office to address a wide range of health issues. But get this: Since
1987, the cancer society and the American College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists have recommended Pap smears only every three years after
initial negative ones.
That’s right! They’ve been saying for over
TWENTY YEARS that we could come in less frequently for that horrid
procedure. But they don’t want us to know that, because they want our
butts in their office every year to get our tits checked and our uterus
pushed around.

Says Debbie Saslow, director of gynecologic cancer for the American
Cancer Society, “The average gynecologist, especially the older ones,
says, ‘Women come in for their Pap smear, and that’s how we get them in
here to get other care.’ We’re totally overscreening, but when you’ve
been telling everyone for 40 years to get an annual Pap smear, it’s
hard to change.”

Obviously, you should get your butt (and cervix!) to a gynecologist any time you
have concerns about your body, but this news absolutely delights me,
and I’m annoyed that I wasn’t told about it earlier, especially since
my past doctors knew how much the procedure traumatized me. But I
always felt that if I didn’t get my annual Pap, I was putting my health
at risk. So not only does this take a huge annual burden off my
shoulders, but the new DNA testing offers a lot of hope to women in
third-world countries, where cervical cancer kills more than 250,000
women a year — that number is just 4000 in the U.S.

Medical science, my cervix salutes you. Now back off.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.