What women should know about early detection

March 8, 2023

When it comes to women’s cancers, we know that most can be treated. But only if you get checked regularly. The earlier we catch cancer the better the prognosis in most cases. So what does it mean to get checked regularly? And why is it so important? We caught up with Centura Health’s very own Dr. Jennifer Rubatt, a gynecological oncologist with an emphasis in genetics, to find out the facts.  

Dr. Rubatt is particularly knowledgeable about the known genes involved in women’s cancers and how modern medicine can use these indicators to help stop cancer’s progress. We are lucky to have her depth of expertise and compassion on our side. Working primarily out of the Centura Gynecologic Oncology Porter, she’s passionate about telling the truth about gynecological cancer — and prevention — to women.  

Most common types of gyn cancers

There are many types of gynecological cancer, but three make up most of the cases Dr. Rubatt sees: 

  1. Endometrial cancer: Commonly presents as post-menopausal bleeding. This definitive indicator also means this form of cancer has a high cure rate, because women can get into a doctor to investigate in time. It’s often diagnosed in stage 1 and treated with hysterectomy. 

  2. Ovarian cancer: With less obvious signs, this gynecological cancer has the opposite story: It’s often not caught until stage 3, when it has already spread to the belly cavity. Ovarian cancer has a five-year survivorship and is treated with a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.  

  3. Cervical cancer: This form of cancer has been decreasing due to higher numbers of people receiving the HPV vaccination. Cervical cancer presents as lesions in the cervix, which are usually indicated by an abnormal pap. Early detection can mean quick removal and eradication of the potential for cervical cancer.  

Annual exams are best

So how do you catch one of these leading forms of cancer? Regular screenings are best. However, recommendations about pap smears and cervical exams can be hard to follow, as they are regularly modified by national governing bodies. Some say every five years after a normal pap. But Dr. Rubatt warns that a lot can change in even one year as you get older. Her recommendation is a yearly check-in.

Your safest bet is to schedule an annual well-woman visit, which most insurance companies cover as preventative. At these overall checks, your doctor should perform a manual breast exam and pelvic exam, where your doctor uses a speculum to ensure full view of the cervix. The latter may indicate that a pap smear is required for more information, or your doctor may recommend a pap based on your genetic history.

Either way, regular screenings should become, well, a lot more “regular,” according to Dr. Rubatt. “The perceived discomfort of exam is one reason why women don’t come in regularly, but the other is that we’re taught that we don’t talk about reproduction, pelvic pain, and other women’s issues,” she says. “Women should be encouraged to share with family and talk with girlfriends so that all of this becomes more familiar, open and accepting.”

Establishing a better relationship with your OB/GYN doctor can help, too. And that means getting educated. Ask about your body mechanics and changing symptoms. And be brave about requesting things to help you feel more comfortable during an exam. Doctors have plenty of tips and tricks for making those annual well-woman checks a better experience for everyone.