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Regular testing key to preventing cervical cancer

María Luisa Arredondo | 5/23/2012, 8:40 a.m.

Her husband always pressured her to go the doctor. But she kept postponing her check-ups, maybe because she was afraid of getting bad news.

Finally, to placate her husband, Reyes Cabrera agreed to go to a clinic. And the nightmare she had feared came true. Last January, she got a notice in the mail with the diagnosis that she had severe breast cancer and that there was evidence that she had cervical cancer developing in her ovaries.

“This has been very hard for me. In March I had to have a mastectomy and then I had to have months of radiation and chemotherapy. There have been days when I thought I couldn’t take any more,” says Reyes in a weak voice.

Reyes, who has lived near San Jose, Calif., for the last 20 years, adds that her ordeal has not yet come to an end.

“Soon I will do more tests to determine the cause of the cancer because there is no history of the disease in my family,” she says. “The doctors have said it is very possible that it might have started with me and, if appropriate, I will have my uterus and ovaries removed.”

The only thing that’s given her strength is her family, says Reyes, who is 38 and a mother of four. “My husband has been very good to me; he has been my support. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have gotten the test. From the beginning he told me he wouldn’t leave me alone and he hasn’t. My children, who are 19, 16, 9 and 3 years old, have also helped me a lot to keep going,” she says.

According to Dr. Diana Ramos, assistant professor at the University of Southern California (USC), the support of family — especially husbands — is key not only to women’s recovery but also to prevention.

“When couples go to the doctor together, and men realize the importance of Pap tests to prevent cervical cancer, they generally support their wives to get these tests and it’s easier for women to take care of themselves,” she explains.

Ramos says that in her experience, very few men in the Latino community are still resistant to women getting Pap tests as a result of cultural prejudices.

“In general, women make the decision to go to the doctor to get tested. I’ve seen very few cases of men who stop them from doing this. It’s more likely that sometimes there’s resistance on the part of women because they don’t have health insurance and they think the test is really expensive,” Ramos says.

But the cost of a Pap test isn’t as much as they think. In some community clinics, it can be as low as $5 if the person doesn’t have sufficient funds. There are also programs like “Every Woman Counts” that offer the test for free.

Alejandra Casillas, a medical internist at University of California, Los Angeles’ Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, points out that many women don’t go to the doctor as much as they should because of cultural beliefs.