We get to observe many special days in January, but don’t forget that the whole month recognizes one important cause: cervical cancer awareness.
Every January, we spread awareness in the US for this preventable disease (with vaccination and screenings!) to reduce the number of people with cervixes who are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer each year. To help you learn more about this disease, we’re sharing the information you need to know about detection, prevention, and treatment. Plus, we’re digging deeper with Care on Location physical therapist Krystyna Holland, PT, DPT into how cervical cancer and treatment can affect your body — specifically, your pelvic floor.
Cervical cancer occurs when there’s any genetic change in the DNA of healthy cervical cells. These cells grow and multiply at an abnormally rapid rate, then eventually form cancerous tumors. Most commonly, though, the viral infection of human papillomavirus (HPV) causes this type of cancer.
While it’s a very common cancer in people with cervixes, cervical cancer is quite preventable and treatable, especially with early detection. Because this cancer doesn’t show signs or symptoms early on, catching it early is crucial. As the disease progresses, it can cause irregular vaginal bleeding or discharge.
That’s why Pap smears and HPV tests are so important — they help prevent or find cervical cancers. Pap smears look for cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous, while the HPV test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.
Here are some expert recommendations to follow to improve your chances of early detection:
If your healthcare provider finds any abnormalities during your screening exams, they’ll determine whether you need a follow-up screening or if you require additional testing.
Our pelvic floor is a group of muscles that start from the pubic bone to the tailbone (AKA the coccyx) — so, essentially, they cover us from front to back. The proper functioning of these muscles is incredibly important, because they support our bladders, bowels, urethras, and anuses. And for people with vaginas, pelvic floor muscles also support the uterus.
Does that mean it helps us control those organs? Absolutely! Your ability to control or delay the release of pee, poop, or gas is all thanks to the pelvic floor. Besides this, these muscles also support your sexual function.
Because they’re so critical to vital elements of your health, it’s crucial to seek help when pelvic floor muscles are weakened and create issues with bladder or bowel control, or even cause pain during sex — all of which are possible results of cervical cancer and/or treatment of the pelvic floor.
According to Holland, “If there’s any type of surgery anywhere in the abdomen or pelvis, there’s very likely going to be some change in the way the pelvic floor muscles and the deep core muscles work.”
With the impact of cervical cancer and radiation, these changes may include:
Keep in mind these symptoms can also occur in people who haven’t had cervical cancer but have had preventative procedures, such as a colposcopy (examines your cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease) or a loop electrosurgical excision, which is a removal of precancerous cells and tissue from your cervix.
“Sometimes, that exam in and of itself can be quite uncomfortable,” explains Holland, “and people can have [a] reflexive guarding response to that type of localized injury to the tissue.” This refers to the possibility that you walk away with symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction as a result of your pelvic floor’s attempt to protect you from the discomfort associated with these procedures.
On the bright side, you don’t have to deal with it alone.
Unfortunately, something we know for sure about cancer and cancer treatment is how much pain and discomfort anyone impacted can experience. Whether you need support to use and manage dilators after radiation treatment, help soothing pelvic or vaginal discomfort after surgery or treatment, or guidance to navigate the changes in your pelvic floor, we’re here for you!
Our team at Care on Location is here to assist you however we can via our telemedicine system. Here’s what you can expect pelvic floor therapy to look like with our care team, including Holland.
Each telehealth visit begins with you sharing your primary concerns. Based on her experience, Holland says this typically includes:
Because your safety is our priority, members of our care team always get your consent to ask additional questions to learn more about what you’re experiencing. Based on the information you provide, you and our medical providers, including Holland, discuss how pelvic floor muscles might contribute to your symptoms.
If your issues don’t seem pelvis-related, however, Holland helps refer you to the right specialist, who is usually a gynecologist. But your session doesn’t end there. Detection is key to treatment, so Holland also talks about how you can perform self-checks on your body to detect any abnormalities, like redness or inflammation in your tissue.
She even shares self-massage techniques, pelvic floor exercises that target your problem areas, and tips on how to check if your pelvic floor muscles are moving as they should.
Got a cervix? Then, everything related to cervical health is for you, and it’s important to us that you feel seen.
Besides having clinical expertise in gender-affirming care, much of Holland’s experience includes working with transgender women, especially after vaginoplasty, as well as nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth and might be on low-dose testosterone while navigating pelvic pain, painful intercourse, or urinary symptoms.
Although medical advice related to cervical cancer is largely specific to women and cisgender women, we believe that anyone who has a cervix should participate in screenings and get the care they need and deserve in a way that feels affirming to them and their identity. Many transgender men and nonbinary individuals report barriers to cervical cancer screenings despite being at high risk, which results in them going without the support they need to catch and fight life-threatening diseases.
Your body and identity are welcome and safe here!
The foundation of Holland’s practice is trauma-informed care, which to her means “a purposeful and intentional ongoing process of making sure we mitigate the chance of doing harm to someone else.”
Pelvic care can be triggering, sensitive, or uncomfortable for some people, so she leads with compassion, validation, and medical expertise to meet everyone where they are. Plus, Holland makes sure you feel like no question is dumb or unreasonable.
“Something I regularly tell clients or patients is that I know a lot about the pelvic floor muscles, bones, and nerves, but I don’t know anything about what you’re experiencing. You are the expert of your own body.”
At Care on Location, we take your expertise and match it with ours, then work together to create a plan that’ll work specifically for you.
This one is simple: “Telehealth totally removes the potential that anyone is going to touch you in any way that could not feel good to your system,” says Holland.
Our mission at Care on Location is to provide a judge-free zone that’s also respectful of your background and boundaries. We champion telehealth because it allows you to go at your own pace — then when you’re ready, we’ll take the next step together.