Women’s Health

A Pap test is one of the most effective cancer screening prevention strategies.

Pap Tests

A pap test is a test of a sample of cells taken from a woman’s cervix or vagina. The test is used to look for changes in the cells of the cervix and vagina that show cancer or conditions that may develop into cancer. If these abnormal cells are found early and treated, this type of cancer can be prevented. Most abnormal pap results do not mean you have cancer.

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a virus called Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is spread through oral, vaginal, and anal sex and direct skin-to-skin intimate touching. You can prevent HPV through the use of barriers (e.g., condoms or dental dams).

When Should You Get a Pap Test?

A women's first pap test should be at age 21 or three years after becoming sexually active; whichever happens to be later. Sexually active means vaginal, oral, or anal sex and genital-to-genital or hand-to-genital contact with people of any gender. After your first pap, you should have one every two years.

After three tests with normal results, you can wait three years between testing. If you ever have an abnormal test result, your health care provider may want you to get tested more often.

Reducing Your Risk Factor

  • Get vaccinated against HPV with one of two vaccines: Gardasil and Cervarix. Learn more about these two vaccines by going to Public Health Agency of Canada and searching HPV. Get the most up to date information at each vaccination’s web page.

  • Age: rates of cervical cancer peak in women between the ages of 20 to 30.

  • Sexual History: women have an increased risk for cervical cancer if they or their partners became sexually active at an early age and/or have had many sexual partners.

  • Don't smoke.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Healthy eating, daily exercise and 7-9 hours of nightly sleep.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is a common disorder and is a common cause of infertility in women. With PCOS, women typically have high levels of the hormone androgen, missed or irregular periods, and many small cysts (fluid-filled sacs) in their ovaries.

What are the Symptoms?

Women may have several of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irregular or absent periods– the most common characteristic.

  • Show physical signs associated with excess levels of androgen– long coarse hair on the face, chest, lower abdomen, back, upper arms, or upper legs; acne; male-pattern baldness.

  • Enlarged ovaries with multiple cysts – as shown on a pelvic ultrasound.

  • Infertility– difficulty becoming pregnant.

  • Obesity– nearly ½ of the women diagnosed with PCOS are obese.

  • Skin tags– usually found on the neck or in the armpit region.

  • Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes – because the ability to effectively use insulin is impaired, this can lead to high blood sugar levels and diabetes.

  • Acanthosis nigricans– brown-black darkening of the skin at the lower base of the neck, armpits, inner thighs, vulva, or under the breasts.

How is PCOS Treated?

  • Healthy Lifestyle: Achieving a healthy body weight may help a woman to start ovulating again and decrease insulin resistance. Follow a diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains and aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity every week.

  • Medications: Treatment is generally focused on addressing the woman’s main symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe medications as part of your PCOS treatment plan based on your symptoms.

Vaginal Infections

A healthy vagina contains several types of microorganisms, providing an acidic environment that fight infections. A moderate amount of clear or white vaginal discharge is healthy and normal. This discharge can also have a mild odor. Amount and quality of vaginal discharge varies throughout the menstrual cycle and between women.

Ways to Keep the Vagina Healthy

  • Always urinate after sexual intercourse.

  • Use barriers to prevent STIs.

  • Wear cotton underwear and looser-fitting clothing.

  • Avoid irritants such as douching; using deodorant sprays; chlorine-bleached or deodorized, synthetic tampons (use 100% cotton, unbleached tampons, or pads instead), and harsh perfumed soaps, and bubble baths.

  • Always wipe from front to back (away from the vagina) to prevent the spread of bacteria.

  • Avoid eating large amounts of refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.

  • Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and maintain a healthy body weight.

Vaginal infections are caused by a change in vagina environment due to menstrual blood, douches, contraceptives, antibiotics, hormones, vaginal medication, sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted infections, changes in sexual partners, and stress.

Common Forms of Vaginal Infections

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an imbalance of the normal bacteria in the vagina in which one or more type of bacteria overgrows. You may get it whether or not you are sexually active.

Symptoms

  • Up to 50% of women with BV have no symptoms,
  • A thin, watery, gray discharge, and
  • Strong unpleasant odor.

Treatment

Antibiotics. Sexual partners do not need to be treated.

Yeast infections

Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of one or more yeast organisms. This is not a sexually transmitted infection so your partner does not need treatment, however, it can be passed from partner to partner.

Symptoms

  • A white, milky, or cottage cheese-like discharge,
  • Itching or irritation of the vagina and vulva, and
  • The vulva, outer region of the vagina, may also appear red and swollen.

Treatment

Medications for yeast infections are available over-the-counter (OTC). If you are unsure if you have a yeast infection it is important to see your doctor or nurse practitioner for an accurate diagnosis. If your health care provider recommends a product, ensure that you continue to use the product until finished even if symptoms disappear.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis, or “Trich”, is caused by a parasitic organism called trichomonas vaginalis. It is usually transmitted during vaginal-penile intercourse. It is sexually transmitted and can be prevented by practicing safe sex.

Symptoms

Women generally have symptoms but men do not. Symptoms can develop up to six month after infection:

  • Frothy and greenish discharge,
  • Burning and itching, 
  • Painful urination, and
  • Strong, fishy odor.

Treatment

Antibiotic. Your partner should also be treated.

Habits for Optimum Health

  • Know your body – Check your breasts monthly for lumps or changes. See a physician if you notice changes. Determine what your normal is.

  • Birth Control – Find a reliable method that will work for you if you are having intercourse with a person who is able to get pregnant. There are many to choose from.

  • Premenstrual syndrome – Can be difficult and severe. You can discuss treatment options with a doctor. There is something that will help you!

  • Exercise every day – Fitness recommendations are 150 minutes per week. Keep with it.

  • Be strong – Make your own decisions, don’t rely on others to make you happy, and protect your sexuality. If you are sexually assaulted, it is never your fault. Make sure you tell someone.

  • Define your values and morals – These are beliefs that are important to you. Spending time thinking about and setting these will help you feel stronger.

  • Be kind – Expect kindness. You are worthy of it.

  • Spend less time thinking about what is wrong with your body – Spend more time thinking about all the good it can do for you. Make a list if you need to.

For More Information

To ask questions or to book a pap test, make an appointment at the Student Wellness Centre.

Saskatoon Sexual Health Centre

SexandU

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