January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and according to Dionne Soares, MPAS, PA-C, an expert in women’s health, routine screening and early detection is critical.
Soares grew up inspired by her mother, a nurse, who told her stories about her daily work life. “I always knew I would go into health care, but also had a desire to teach,” said Soares. “Becoming a PA allowed me to be versatile within my profession. I have not only been able to practice in women’s health but have practiced in both inpatient and outpatient settings. As a clinical preceptor, I have also had the opportunity to teach future PAs about the importance of cervical cancer prevention.”
“As practitioners and patient advocates, PAs are charged with providing awareness regarding preventive medicine as a means of early detection/intervention and improving patient well-being and outcomes.” Soares routinely counsels her patients about cervical health and cervical cancer screening. She encourages her patients to practice safe sex, discontinue smoking, and encourages the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for patients, especially for women under the age of 26.
“With the utilization of social media and technology, there are a multitude of methods that can be employed to convey this message to patients – communication blasts (email and/or text), podcasts, social media, as well as face-to-face encounters to remind patients to schedule their screenings,” said Soares.
As a clinician, Soares has been able to advocate for patients who are uninsured or marginally insured and often have access issues to cervical cancer screening. She connects patients with programs that provide free screening and diagnostic follow-up for breast/cervical health and other support for improved access to care. As an educator, she engages students in the importance of developing an interdisciplinary network to seek patient services, when necessary.
“Some of the challenges I have faced in my years of practice are patient education/awareness of the screening intervals and guidelines, and more significantly, follow-up care for abnormal cervical screening results for uninsured or marginally insured patients. This poses a risk to patients as critical follow-up care is not easily accessible or coordinated,” said Soares.
Additionally, Soares routinely educates patients on common misconceptions about cervical screening and cervical health:
- Women only need to have cervical cancer screening if they are sexually active. (False – Women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21, regardless of sexual activity.)
- “I had a Pap done in the emergency room.” (False – If a woman presents to the ER with a GYN-related complaint, a pelvic examination will be performed. Screening for cervical cancer (Papanicolaou [Pap] test), an outpatient screening test is not performed during an ER encounter.)
- Women need to be screened for cervical cancer annually. (False – Women with a negative cervical cancer screening history and no other co-morbidities may be screened every 3–5 years with or without HPV (co-testing) screening.)
- “I tested positive for HPV, so I have cervical cancer.” (False – The detection of HPV does not mean the individual has cervical cancer. It means further evaluation and closer follow-up will be required. A colposcopy may be warranted to further evaluate the cervix.)
Soares is passionate about her work as a PA in women’s health: “As trusted health care providers, we have impact on the lives of our patients. We have the capability to impart on patients the importance of healthy lifestyle habits and routine/annual screenings as being essential to healthy outcomes.”
Learn more at CDC Cervical Cancer Awareness.