It can be scary to learn that you have cervical cancer, or even an abnormal Pap smear result. Asking questions can help. Learning about your diagnosis makes it easier to handle.
However, there are also things you can do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer even before you have an abnormal Pap smear. For example, you can:
- practice safe sex
- get an HPV vaccination
- get regular Pap smears
The HPV vaccine must be given to children at about age 11 in order to be effective.
If you’re having trouble making decisions about prevention, consider asking your doctor the following questions:
- How can I reduce my risk of getting HPV from a sexual partner?
- Should I get the HPV vaccine?
- Which vaccine do you recommend?
- How often should I get a Pap smear?
Millions of women each year learn that their Pap smear results are abnormal. Many of these women will never go on to develop cancer. Questions you should ask your doctor if you have an abnormal Pap smear include:
- What is my specific diagnosis?
- How likely is it that these changes will become cancerous?
- Did you do an HPV test? If so, was it positive?
- What kind of follow-up would you recommend?
- Do I need a colposcopy?
- Do I need a biopsy?
- Is treatment definitely necessary, or could I just be rescreened?
- What are the potential side effects of treatment?
- Should I get Pap smears more often in the future?
- How should I talk to my sexual partners about my diagnosis?
If your Pap smear result is abnormal, you may need a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a tissue sample from your cervix. Questions you might ask your doctor before you have a biopsy include:
- Are you certain the biopsy is necessary, or can I be screened again?
- Which biopsy method do you recommend?
- How much tissue will be removed?
- Is the biopsy done in your office or at the hospital?
- How long will the biopsy take?
- Will the biopsy hurt?
- Do I have to avoid sex after the biopsy?
- Can I use tampons after the biopsy?
- Can a biopsy affect my ability to have children?
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you may have questions about follow-up care. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the extent of your cancer before deciding on a treatment plan. Not all treatment options are right for all patients.
Questions you might ask include:
- What stage is my cancer?
- Has it spread to my lymph nodes?
- Has it spread elsewhere in my body?
- What kind of treatment would you recommend?
- What other treatment options do I have?
- What are the benefits and disadvantages of each treatment option?
- How can I prepare for treatment?
- How will treatment affect my sex life?
- Will treatment affect my ability to have children?
- Will I still be at risk for cancer after treatment?
- How often will I need cancer screenings in the future?
Coping with a cervical cancer diagnosis can be very difficult. It’s important to get all the information you can. Then, you can make more informed decisions about treatment and other follow-up care.
In addition to researching your cancer online, you may want to talk to someone directly. You can contact the National Cancer Institute at 800-4-CANCER (800-422-6237). The American Cancer Society also provides information by phone at 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345).
Finally, it’s important to have a support system in place to help with your recovery. Talk to friends and family about what help you may need. They can assist you with things like:
- food shopping
- other household chores
You may also want to look for cancer survivor groups in your area. Talking to other women who have survived a cervical cancer diagnosis can be a great source of emotional support. They may also be able to offer unique insights into local doctors and care options.