Older Women With Cervical Cancer Falling Through the Cracks
He says that there are ways women with cervical cancer can overcome their concerns about the treatment and get assistance obtaining it. "This is a diagnosis for which we have a potentially curative therapy and the side effects are acceptable, so it's important to figure out where the treatment is available, ask whether there are ways of getting help from the American Cancer Society to get to the hospital," Trimble says. "Ask if you can talk to other people who've had the same treatment. Part of it is fear. People have heard horrible things about radiation treatment, but that is based on decades ago. Bring your family to the doctor with you so they can ask questions."
The fact that so many women in the study group received a diagnosis but no treatment is surprising, Annekathryn Goodman, MD, tells WebMD. "I have to assume in some ways it is a problem with access to healthcare. [Women] just don't come back, they don't speak English. ... Clearly physicians can only impact those people who come to see them." Goodman is an associate director of the division of gynecological oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
She agrees with Trimble that more research is needed to determine why these women fell through the cracks and what changes can be made to ensure it doesn't happen. Goodman encourages physicians to do pelvic exams on women regardless of their age.
"It is clear to me that there has been a trend toward discouraging physicians from doing a physical examination on [older] female patients," Goodman says. "They have some screening guidelines from family practice organizations that say you don't have to do it anymore, that women might not need them because they are not sexually active, they are not in a high risk category. I think that is totally and utterly wrong."