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Walk-In Access for Cervical Health Awareness at NHB

18 January 2023

From Douglas Stutz

“Cervical cancer screening saves lives.”So stressed Lt. Cmdr. Tara Mccluskey, Naval Hospital Bremerton OB/GYN provider.Mccluskey readily acknowledges that January designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month is a crucial reminder of the importance for women to routinely schedule their cervical cancer screening, also known as a pap smear or pap
“Cervical cancer screening saves lives.”

So stressed Lt. Cmdr. Tara Mccluskey, Naval Hospital Bremerton OB/GYN provider.

Mccluskey readily acknowledges that January designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month is a crucial reminder of the importance for women to routinely schedule their cervical cancer screening, also known as a pap smear or pap test.

The majority of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are between the ages of 35 and 44,” said Mccluskey. “It usually takes three to seven years for high-grade changes in cervical cells to become cancer. Screening may detect these changes before they become cancer.”

To streamline the screening process, NHB’s OB/GYN clinic provides walk-in availability for cervical cancer screening every Friday, from 8 a.m. until noon and closed for federal holidays and on days of limited activity.

According to Mccluskey, the walk-in clinic – started last September - has been well received by fleet medical teams as well active duty and dependent beneficiaries.

“We have seen over 54 patients for their pap screening exam since the walk-in clinic was started,” McCluskey said. “The walk-in clinic has also streamlined the process for getting patients in for their diagnostic testing after an abnormal pap smear result. They have already been seen in the clinic and had their abnormal pap smear results reviewed by a specialist.”

In addition to receiving preventive health screening, Mccluskey also notes many patients have used their appointment as an opportunity to raise questions or concerns of a sensitive nature to a dedicated women’s health practitioner.

“They are then scheduled a follow up gynecologic appointment with one of our providers,” added Mccluskey.

Only women can get cervical cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) affirms that all women are at risk for getting it. It occurs most often in women over age 30.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women worldwide. Yet because it takes time to develop, it is also highly preventable. Still, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer each year with approximately 4,000 women die from it.

“Cervical cancer screening is an important part of women’s health care. You should start having screening at age 21, regardless of when you first start having sex. How often you should have cervical cancer screening, and which tests you should have depends on a person’s age and health history,’ explained Mccluskey, noting that women who are 21 to 29 should have a pap test alone every three years. HPV testing alone can also be considered for women who are 25 to 29, but pap tests are preferred.

“Women who are 30 to 65 have three options for testing. They can have a pap test and an HPV test - co-testing - every five years. They can have a pap test alone every three years, or they can have HPV testing alone every five years,” Mccluskey said.

In addition to regular cervical cancer screening, HPV vaccination is an important way to help protect against the HPV infections that most commonly cause cancer. HPV vaccination is recommended for persons from age nine to 45. The HPV vaccination is still beneficial even if someone has already been exposed to HPV or had an abnormal pap smear in the past.

“We encourage all patients to complete their HPV vaccination if they have not already done so,” said Mccluskey.

The walk-in service is for any eligible patient – active duty, retiree, dependent – to have access. Patients will be served on a first-come, first-served basis. For those who prefer a scheduled appointment, it is advised to request a primary care manager referral or simply speak to an OB/GYN clinic nurse to help coordinate a suitable date and time.

The entire screening visit will last approximately 30 minutes. Patients are recommended to wear comfortable attire. A gown can be provided by the clinic, if needed. It is also advocated to avoid douching, intercourse, vaginal medications, creams and jellies for two days prior to the screening procedure. For those in their menstrual cycle, it is best to postpone the procedure to prevent inadequate – or uncertain - results.

For active duty personnel, as well as activated reservists, it is advisable to ensure their pap test screening is up to date before deploying. This includes factoring in the time needed for walk-in availability or scheduling an appointment followed by obtaining the results.

NHB’S OB/GYN clinic also offers other screenings available, including those for sexually transmitted infections, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia. Patients should consult with their provider to coordinate, as well as discuss if the HPV vaccine – a three shot series – is needed.

For those without a primary care manager or provider, the OB/GYN clinic is staffed regularly with female providers. Please ask if assistance is needed.

“If you have questions about when your next pap smear is due or how to interpret your pap smear results, please don’t hesitate to stop by the walk-in pap clinic Friday mornings at Naval Hospital Bremerton. One of our dedicated women’s health providers can answer any questions you have,” stated Mccluskey.

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