cervical cancer

So I have a “pre-cancerous lesion.”

A couple of months ago, I received the results of my pap test, and the news that I have a “pre-cancerous lesion” on my cervix. I didn’t know how serious this was, or whether I should be worried, and the doctor’s expression wasn’t giving me any clues. He was calm, chatty and almost jovial — not that a nervous, sweaty, hand-wringing doc would have been any better. Moments earlier, I had heard him laughing with the receptionist about being starving, and just having to get through one more patient (me) before heading out. I equated it to journalism, where reporters cover so many murders, deaths and other tragedies that you can’t help but become desensitized, to some degree, when dealing with sensitive matters.

He said I have what is called a high-grade cervical squamous intraepithelial lesion, or HSIL for short, CIN (category) 3. At this point I still had no idea whether I should be concerned. I asked him what this meant and his response was: “It’s basically the last step before cervical cancer.” I’m thinking, “Alright, I guess I can start being worried now.”

Weird cells and lesions are disturbingly common findings in pap tests, he said: About one in 10 women get them, for no reason at all. There are different categories of severity; some weird cells and lesions go away on their own and others get progressively worse, culminating in cancer. He said of the 10 per cent of women who have this, if left untreated, 20 per cent (of that 10 per cent) develop cervical cancer. I know of five women — close friends — who have the same thing. I’m sure if I asked around, the number would grow significantly.

My only reason for posting this is to remind and urge women to go for their annual pap tests. I’ve skipped mine often for no good reason: busy, don’t feel like getting a cold speculum jammed in me today, etc., but I ended up going at a critical time. If I would have skipped out for the next year or two, I could have become part of that 20 per cent (of the 10 per cent with HSIL) to develop cervical cancer. Those numbers are nothing to dismiss.

On Monday afternoon I will go for a colposcopy, during which they will look at the abnormality further and do a biopsy. From there, they will either destroy the abnormal area (ablation) or remove it (resection). Following this procedure, 10 per cent of women will have a recurrence. Whereas I used to loathe going in for a pap test once a year, I’ll now have to loathe going in for checkups two or three times a year. One of my best girlfriends has had a recurrence and she’ll have to go back in January. I don’t quite know what that means yet.

Anyway. No need to send me messages saying you’re hoping for the best, etc. At this point I’m still not worried, per se, and I don’t think I really have reason to be. I’m just a little nervous about the procedure — friends have described it as being very uncomfortable — and annoyed at the idea of follow-ups several times a year.

Please do go get your pap tests done, ladies. Timing is crucial.