No one really likes to go to the doctor but as we get older routine checkups become critical to maintaining health, especially for women.
Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. but with routine exams it's avoidable and easily treatable.
It had been more than 8 years since Sara Simpson had her last pap smear. Even with so much time between doctor visits she never thought something could be wrong.
"No I never did, that's why never got my paps because I feel fine, I feel healthy, I work out, I try to eat right and I try to do the right things and I never, never thought about it." Said Simpson.
After a week of waiting for the results of her latest exam, Sara started to get nervous.
"The phone call I got was you need to come in, we need to talk to you in the office. So then I knew and when I got in to the doctors office she said it's bad and I want you to go see the best and so she recommended Dr. Starks." Said Simpson.
At 36, Sara was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Many women may feel youth protects them from certain cancers but Avera Gynecologic Oncologist Dr. David Starks says Sara's case is more common than you might think. Dr. Starks says a lot depends on the body's reaction and handling of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is found in every person.
"Most young women's immune system's are able to clear the virus, the problem and what creates cervical cancer is the persistence of this virus the immune system can't get rid of it, it hangs out in these cells and slowly leads to this transformation and that's what sets up for cervical cancer." Said Dr. Starks.
More often than not there are no symptoms and the cancer can lie dormant for years. But with her diagnosis and being a single mother of two, Sara took her cancer fight head on.
"I was scared, very scared but I just had faith that everything was going to work out ok." Said Simpson.
Lucky for Sara, that's just what happened. Her cancer was found in the early stages and she didn't need to undergo chemotherapy, her cancer could be beaten through surgery.
"It's pretty textbook we found hers pretty early so all we had to do was treat her ultimately with a hysterectomy, she was done with her childbearing, had she been a younger woman there are other options we could've talked about to preserve her fertility just removing a portion of the cervix knowing we'd have to come back later on." Said Dr. Starks.
Dr. Stark removed Sara's uterus and cervix but left her ovaries in tact, so Sara doesn't have to worry about hormone shots. And so far, her early intervention has prevented the cancer from spreading.
"Thank goodness I don't need any other treatments they got it all so just now I have to watch things for the next few years." Said Simpson.
And since Sara's surgery was done using the Da Vinci Robot, she's well on her way to recovery.
"She is otherwise recovered very well and is actually asking to be able to do more than what she's allowed to do so I'm pretty happy with how the surgery went but I think that's kind of the outcome that were looking for these early kinds of cervical cancers." Said Dr. Starks.
Early intervention is the key to a cure and routine checkups can make all the difference.
"Don't put them off! Don't wait!" Said Simpson.
Doctors say women don't have to do annual pap smears unless they have a family history of cervical cancer or have had a prior abnormal screening. But it is up to the patient on how they want to proceed. For more information about women's health or other cancer screenings just call 877-AT-AVERA.