UNC Professor Receives Crash Course on Cervical Cancer

August 27, 2007
Never take health screenings for granted, she warnsWhen Betty Woodard went to check her mail, she expected the usual: bills, catalogs and another credit card offer. What she actually received was anything but typical. That is, unless you consider it normal to receive a certified letter from your doctor pleading to see her. This wasn’t an appointment reminder card or an insurance question. It was to discuss the questionable results of Betty’s recent pap smear exam. Betty followed her doctor’s advice and came back in for a follow up appointment. Two weeks after receiving that letter, Betty, then age 52, was diagnosed with cervical cancer. “We were devastated,” recalls Betty of the immediate reaction she and her husband, Ed, experienced. “Are you sure we have cancer?” Betty knew all about cancer. After all, she has thirty years of health care experience including holding positions as nurse, family nurse practitioner, researcher, PhD and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But as Betty later admits, she should have taken the possibility more seriously. Because of her background, Betty was always vigilant about taking care of her health and in ensuring she received all the recommended physicals and screenings. In fact, as part of a previous year’s exam her pap test also was questionable, and Betty saw her doctor again for a follow-up exam. Fortunately at that time, the results cleared Betty from any health issues. But when results came up questionable again for a later year, Betty just assumed it was a false alarm. There’s no need for more tests, she thought. Betty ignored calls made from her doctor’s office requesting a follow-up visit. Fortunately, due to the diligence of her physician, Betty received a certified letter that changed her life forever. In fact, women like Betty, who have no family history of cancer and are in perfect health, are being diagnosed with cervical cancer every day, says Beth Mathews, director of New Hanover Regional Medical Center’s Zimmer Cancer Center. The good news is that the cervical cancer death rate declined by 74 percent between 1955 and 1992, mostly due to the increased use of the pap test. “For many reasons, women do not seek medical care until they have signs and symptoms of a problem; however, with early stage cervical cancer, as with many cancers, you may not have any symptoms,” cautions Mathews. “That is why it is so important to participate in routine screenings; they can save your life.” Fortunately for Betty, her results were detected early and she received treatment at the Zimmer Cancer Center that made her free of cancer. Now Betty has a whole new perspective on getting an unexpected phone call or letter. “When the doctor calls you, answer the phone. It could save your life.”

Did you know?

Did you know that cervical cancer rates differ by race/ethnicity and region? Or that cervical cancer can be prevented if precancerous cervical lesions are found by a Pap test and treated? Find out how getting regular Pap tests can save a woman’s life. For a free information sheet on cervical cancer from the Zimmer Cancer Center, please visit www.nhhn.org/cancer or call 910-452-8704.

By the numbers…

  • 11,150 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2007.
  • 3,670 women will die from cervical cancer in the U.S. in 2007.
  • More than 20 percent of women with cervical cancer were diagnosed when they were over age 65.
  • African-American women develop cervical cancer 50 percent more often than non-hispanic white women.
  • 910-815-5188. The phone number for NHRMC’s VitaLine, a community health hotline, directing you to community resources offering free or discounted women’s care.
  • Source: American Cancer Society