Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ode to Pap

An estimated 500,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide each year, with nearly half of them actually succumbing to their illness. In August 2009, my friend Angie was one of those women.

Prior to her diagnosis, Angie was in the best shape of her life. She'd quit smoking in recent years and was finally down to a healthy weight. She also always made a point of having a Pap test done each year at her annual physical, so her diagnosis of advanced cervical cancer was a definite shock.

Specialists told her that the cancer cells may have developed shortly after her last test was done, or maybe they were present but so small during the exam that they went undetected. So despite her annual Pap test, Angie was essentially the victim of some bad luck.

Regardless of the unfortunate timing of Angie's exam, I still believe that annual Pap testing should be necessary during physical exams. And this is exactly why I was shocked to hear from my doctor today that the new recommendation is to only test once every three years.

Three years!

It took Angie less than a year to die from cervical cancer, but the new norm is to only test for it once every three years!

I expressed my concern about this to my doctor this morning, and, to her credit, she was more than willing to abide by my request to continue with the annual testing.

Granted, I come from the school of thought that preventive exams and testing should be mandatory, including full-body xrays and full-panel bloodwork, but still. Given that these tests are inclusive with my Canadian health care, why wouldn't I take full advantage and dabble in some preventive medicine?

After all, I assure you that the alternative -- chemotherapy, drugs, repeated testing, hospital stays, and, eventually, death -- would be far more costly.

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