Things to know about cervical cancer and HPV
Women at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments got a crash course recently in how to prevent and detect cervical cancer, and how important reproductive health care is.
The program, featuring Community Health Worker Ileana Casillas from the Gándara Center, also included a few other important lessons: How to avoid, and detect, the human papilloma virus (HPV), how to discuss reproductive health issues with children, the benefits of an annual pap test, and why a positive test for cellular changes that can mean cervical cancer are not a good reason to panic.
The hour-long session was held in a classroom at the Deborah Barton Neighborhood Network Center at Sullivan, organized by SHA Talk/Read/Succeed! Coordinator Zenaida Burgos, who aims to ensure that parents are aware of and armed with important health information with which to inform their lives.
“This was a great opportunity to educate our residents on health matters that can make such an important difference in our lives in terms of getting checked annually for cervical cancer,” Burgos said. “These things aren’t always discussed openly, and here is some information that can clarify things for them. There’s no need to be afraid.”
SHA Executive Director Denise Jordan said the session offered information that all women should know.
“Health matters are everyone’s issues,” Jordan said. “It’s so important that all women understand the need for regular check-ups, and get specific details on what to watch out for. This is a great program.”
Delivered in both Spanish and English, the program featured flip-style cardboard pages with drawings and images that made the material easy to digest and understand.
Casillas detailed early signs of cervical problems – vaginal discharge or bleeding off a regular cycle time or pain when urinating – and urged guests to schedule an exam if such symptoms occur.
She then detailed the specifics of what happens during a vaginal exam.
She spent time talking about exam results, saying doctors will look for cell changes that do not always mean cancer, but will likely bring on more testing, or more frequent exams. Those cell changes may also lead to procedures to burn them off, she said.
Her section on HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection, included a discussion on a three-series vaccination available to teenagers to prevent it, as well as information on positive HPV tests – “this does not mean you have cancer, and it does not mean you or your partner have been unfaithful” – to participants.
Finally, she shared a few ways to prevent HPV and cervical cancer: Get regular pap tests, limit sexual partners, use condoms, take the vaccine series if age appropriate, and avoid smoking. Research shows that smokers are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer.
Casillas said her purpose was to be both frank and informative, on topics that aren’t always discussed in such depth, if at all.
“Basically what we want them to understand most of all is the importance of getting regular checkups for screening,” she said. “A lot of people are afraid to go, but it’s so important. We give them information that will help them understand that, and also what to expect when they do go.”
After the information sharing, Casillas gave a review quiz, with prizes for participants giving the correct answers to questions.
Residents who attended the session gave it positive reviews.
“It was very good information,” said Betty Bonilla, who was already versed on the matter and gets the check-ups.
“I love to come to things like this because you always get such good information and learn things that you didn’t already know about,” she added. “It’s always good to hear things like this.”
Johanna Ayala, who lives at SHA’s Robinson Gardens Apartments and attends sessions at Sullivan, said she learned a lot from the session.
“Everything about it was good. She gave a lot of information that I didn’t know,” Ayala said. “Everybody needs to know these things. “If you are sexually active, you should know about this.”
Ayala also appreciated getting together with her neighbors for the shared experience of learning about women’s health issues.
In fact, the session was so well received that Burgos will schedule another one on breast cancer.
“It’s all about educating and preventing,” Burgos said.
Talk/Read/Succeed! is SHA’s family-based early literacy program, which runs on the holistic philosophy that healthy families are in the best position to raise healthy, happy and literate children.
Copyright © 2013 Springfield Housing Authority. All Rights Reserved.