Dr. John Schorge, a national leader in the treatment of gynecologic cancers, recently held a Lunch & Learn to educate patients about preventing cervical cancer.

He says awareness, proper screening, and the HPV vaccine are all key to helping women protect themselves against a cervical cancer diagnosis.

He also encourages patients to see their doctor about symptoms like abnormal bleeding after sex, which is the classing sign of cervical cancer.

Preventing cervical cancer and related cancers is within reach: Dr. John Schorge, chief of the OB/GYN service at Regional One Health and chair of University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, says these diagnoses can be prevented with simple steps like proper screening and vaccination.

Dr. Schorge recently hosted a “Lunch and Learn” to encourage women to take charge of their health by managing their cervical cancer risk. “It is an extremely preventable cancer. If women get informed, get screened and get vaccinated, we can actually end cervical cancer,” he said.

That also holds true for related cancers including oropharyngeal, anal, vulvar, vaginal and penile.

Dr. Schorge said the best thing patients can do is get the HPV vaccine, which is safe, effective and recommended between ages 9 and 45.

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the cause of cervical and related cancers. HPV infections are common – about 4 out of 5 people will be infected during their lifetime.

In most cases, an infection does not result in cancer. Of about 100 variants of HPV, roughly a dozen put patients at higher risk for cancer.

“If women get informed, get screened and get vaccinated, we can actually end cervical cancer,” gynecologic oncologist Dr. John Schorge says. It is an extremely preventable cancer.”

Patients who receive the HPV vaccine are more likely to stay healthy if exposed to one of those variants, Dr. Schorge said. The vaccine injects virus-like particles into the body, causing it to produce antibodies. If a vaccinated person is exposed to HPV, the antibodies fight the infection.

Dr. Schorge said the vaccine is extremely safe and shown to prevent 90 percent of cervical and related cancers. It resulted in a 65 percent decrease in cervical cancer cases between 2012 and 2019 among women in their early 20s, which is the first group to receive the vaccine.

“It’s very promising,” he said. “It suggests we’ll have a pretty steep decline in cervical cancers – unless people don’t get vaccinated.”

Other ways to manage risk include healthy lifestyle choices, screening and awareness.

In terms of lifestyle, practicing safe sex and avoiding smoking are essential. Unprotected sexual activity can increase your risk of HPV infection, and smoking inhibits a healthy immune system, making it more likely abnormal cells caused by HPV infection will progress to cancer.

Being aware of symptoms and seeing your provider about any concerns is also key. The classic symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding after sex, and Dr. Schorge urged women to see their provider if they experience problems.

The other important component is screening, which is readily available and highlight effective.

The cervix is the opening to the uterus, so it can be examined with a routine Pap exam. Dr. Schorge noted most people who are diagnosed with cervical cancer haven’t had a Pap exam in years, because with regular Pap tests, problems are caught and treated early.

He explained when someone is exposed to HPV, the infection can get into the DNA of the cervical cell. Then, “It’s just a matter of time before it progresses to cervical cancer. Fortunately, that usually takes year and years, so there is plenty of time to detect it.”

The HPV vaccine is recommended between ages 9 and 45. It is shown to prevent 90 percent of cases of cervical cancer and related cancers.

Regular Pap tests are recommended for women between ages 21 and 65. Talk to your provider about your specific screening needs.

Patients who have an abnormal Pap test are referred to Regional One Health’s Center for HPV and Dysplasia (CHAD) for a more detailed exam and possibly a biopsy.

If the abnormal cells are pre-cancerous, they are simply removed in the office with a minor incision. It’s almost painless, there are no stitches, and patients leave shortly after the procedure.

Patients who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are referred to Dr. Schorge. As a gynecologic oncologist, he has specialized expertise and experience to provide multidisciplinary treatment.

Early stage cervical cancer can be cured via a hysterectomy, Dr. Schorge said. Regional One Health is a national leader in rates of minimally-invasive hysterectomy, meaning smaller incisions, less risk, no overnight hospital stay, and an easier recovery. If cervical cancer is too advanced for surgery, the patient will likely have chemotherapy with radiation.

While treatment from a specialist like Dr. Schorge can provide optimal outcomes, he stressed prevention is always the best option, and one that is achievable with cervical and related cancers.

“While this disease is entirely preventable, we’ll continue to see cervical cancer among people who don’t have access to vaccination and preventative health care. It is our mission at Regional One Health to address the disparities in access to health care that exist in Memphis and our region,” he said. “We’re very privileged to be here and to care for patients in our community, and we’re growing as a destination where people can find state-of-the-art treatment.”

For appointments at our East Campus, 6555 Quince Road, call 901-515-3100. For appointments at our Outpatient Center, 880 Madison Avenue, 3rd Floor, call 901-515-3800. Learn more at https://www.regionalonehealth.org/womens-services/