Being Aware of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month with Dr. Jennifer Rubatt

Dr. Jennifer Rubatt. Photo provided by Banner Health.

Jonson Kuhn | North Forty News

It’s Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, people!  Local Banner provider, Dr. Jennifer Rubatt, MD of gynecology and oncology at McKee Medical Center in Loveland is extremely aware and knowledgeable about this topic, in fact, it’s her freaking profession, okay?  So, that’s why I talked to her about it so that you and I could both be more aware of this very serious issue that unfortunately doesn’t receive near the attention it demands.

According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women with more than 14,000 new cases and over 4,000 deaths in 2021.  Furthermore, another troubling statistic is that over the last roughly two years, women’s health care providers have seen a decrease in annual cervical cancer screenings due to fears of going to the doctor during the pandemic.

I feel like it puts women in a difficult spot because according to all of that information it seems like if COVID doesn’t get you then maybe cervical cancer will, but regardless, Dr. Rubatt stresses that while recommendations for a pap smear have moved from every three years to every five, this does not negate the need for annual pelvic exams and cervical cancer screenings.

“The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get annual well-woman exams, pelvic screenings, and HPV tests,” said Dr. Rubatt. “The HPV vaccine is also one of the best defenses and is recommended for children as early as age nine.”

For those like me who thought HPV was the thing at the beginning of a website before www, it actually stands for Human papillomavirus, which is transmitted sexually, and it’s the leading cause of cervical cancer. It usually doesn’t have any early signs or symptoms which means an annual exam and screening is critical.

But, look, you don’t need to hear this from me; Dr. Rubatt was nice enough to provide a little of her time for an in-depth interview to further answer questions on this topic, so, I think we’d all be best suited to just get to that interview now so you can get the information from an actual professional.

JONSON: Can you elaborate on the consequences of prolonging these exams or avoiding them altogether? Though I would imagine to some extent the consequences are obvious, I think specifics could be nice here if possible.

DR. RUBATT: The longer in-between exams might allow cancer to grow unchecked. This area of the body is difficult for self-exam at home and early dysplasia or pre-cancer can be very subtle in appearance and completely asymptomatic. Without definitive symptoms early on, people have no trigger to alert themselves to schedule an appointment for an exam. Missing early dysplasia or even early cancer can lead to a higher stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis, increased severity of treatment, and decreased cure rates.

JONSON: Also, why is it as early as age 9 being recommended? (Unless this one is extremely obvious and I’m just dumb or naive, which is entirely possible.) I guess I just would have assumed these tests would take place later in the teenage years and as a father of an 8-year-old girl, that part particularly grabbed my attention. I think about having my daughter undergo these exams as early as next year and she can barely sit through a visit to the dentist. It just seems really early, but I understand I’m not a doctor, just a dad, so that’s why I’m asking for more specifics on that particular question…in case it seemed strange.

DR. RUBATT: To clarify, no tests or exams are recommended at age 9. The first pelvic exam shouldn’t be until age 21 or if there is a reason to do one early based on reported symptoms. Age 9-12 is recommended for the HPV vaccination. This age group has the most robust immune response to the vaccine itself which increases protection from the HPV virus. Also, it is best to get vaccinated prior to any exposure to HPV.

JONSON: Oh.  Okay, so, I apparently just misunderstood, that’s both reassuring and humiliating simultaneously.  The American Cancer Society article also mentioned health providers seeing a decrease in screenings during the pandemic, so can you talk a little bit about what you would say to those who are concerned about making an appointment while COVID is still a concern?

DR. RUBATT: All health care facilities have adopted protocols/procedures for in-person patient care to assure safe patient care. Local health departments are also involved in developing these strategies. All health care facilities in Northern Colorado have masking requirements, symptom screening upon entry to the building, and social distancing.

JONSON: And lastly, I’d like to just open it up to anything else you might like to include or expand upon?

DR. RUBATT: We have evidence in areas with high vaccine uptake in the population we are already reporting reduced rates of genital warts and precancerous lesions. This is also decreasing the amount of anxiety-provoking, painful work-up procedures such as biopsies.

My many thanks to Dr. Rubatt for her time and information.  To learn more during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, visit bannerhealth.com/services/cancer/cancer-type/cervical-cancer.

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