For all women, there is no better time than the present to take cervical health seriously. The cervix is yet one more body part that women need to pay attention to, because in some cases abnormal cells in the cervix could lead to cancer and other health complications.
Statistics on the status of cancer were just released this week during January, which is Cervical Health Awareness Month.
Although the annual report to the nation on the status of cancer states that death rates have declined for all types of cancer, there has been an increase in incident rates for certain types of cancer, such as anus and oropharynx cancer.
These two types of cancer are affiliated with human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can also cause cervical cancer. The report includes statistics from 1975 to 2009 (the most recent statistics to date).
Despite the slight decrease in cervical cancer incidence rates and death rates from 2000 to 2009 according to the report, this type of cancer is still burdensome for many women.
During this awareness month, experts let women know just how cervical health and cancer can fit into the big picture of overall health, including mental health.
For women who are diagnosed and living with cervical cancer, mental health can take a major blow at times.
Rachana Vettickal, a licensed social worker and mind-body therapist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA) at Midwestern Regional Medical Center, said in an email that emotions of women and their families can be negatively impacted by a diagnosis of cervical cancer.
“Many emotions can surface through their journey, including self-image, self-esteem, intimacy and fertility issues,” Vettickal said. “Mind-body therapy can help women process these challenging emotions and fears, and aid them in the healing process.”
She said that therapists can be important resources after a diagnosis. Support groups can be valuable resources as well.
“Finding a support group comprised of other women experiencing the same feelings and emotional stress can help women feel strong and stay connected,” Vettickal said.
Staying in close contact with friends and family members is also helpful, in addition to some methods used at CTCA, like journaling, deep breathing, “mindful stress reduction,” “expressive arts” and meditation.
“Practicing mindfulness, which is the act of being intensely aware of what a person is sensing and feeling at every moment - without analysis or judgment - can help regulate emotions, improve patterns of thinking, counteract depression, enhance the immune system, decrease stress reactivity, and improve interpersonal relationships,” Vettickal said.
It can be beneficial to ask a lot of questions and stay informed about the diagnosis and treatment process. It can improve mental health when people are on top of their overall health situation.
Michelle Whitlock, the author of “How I Lost My Uterus and Found My Voice” and a two-time cervical cancer survivor, said in an email that a cervical cancer diagnosis can be especially detrimental to mental health. This is because of the stigma associated with cervical cancer and its link with HPV and sexual contact.
Some women are afraid to let others know about their diagnosis and get proper treatment because they think others will judge their past sexual history, despite the fact that many Americans have HPV.
And when they do decide to get treatment, the treatment options (like surgery, chemotherapy and radiation) can also harm mental health and the body in the process.
She had some suggestions for how to get through this potentially difficult time. One way to cope is to acknowledge all emotions and allow yourself to feel and release them.
“I recommend keeping a gratitude list,” Whitlock said.
“Waking up each day and finding one thing a person can be happy or thankful for regardless of how bleak the cancer feels. Leave yourself notes of appreciation, affirmations, or humor on the bathroom mirror, fridge or on your windshield.”
She also suggested engaging in hobbies and exercise.
“Talk about what you are experiencing,” Whitlock said.
“I was amazed that when I opened up and starting sharing my vagina stories with friends and strangers, almost all of them had their own vagina stories to share back. I found I wasn’t alone. My sharing gave them permission to share what they were holding inside and we were all better for it.”
Overall, she believes that “strong mental health, positive energy, and patient empowerment all play a vital role in overcoming cervical cancer.” She added that this positivity might “empower” the immune system and assist with eliminating diseases.
Jemal, Ahmedin; Simard, Edgar P; et al. Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, 1975-2009, Featuring the Burden and Trends in Human Papillomavirus (HPV)-Associated Cancers and HPV Vaccination Coverage Levels. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Web.
http://seer.cancer.gov/report_to_nation/. January 8, 2013
Vettickal, Rachana. Email interview. Jan. 9, 2013.
Whitlock, Michelle. Email interview. Jan. 7, 2013.
Reviewed January 10, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith