Abnormal Pap test? What to know about cervical dysplasia

So, you’ve been through the discomfort and awkwardness of your Pap test, and you’ve gotten the unexpected call from your doctor: Your Pap test was abnormal. Now what? We recently spoke with Kathleen Schmeler, M.D., co-leader of MD Anderson’s HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot™, to find out what you should know. Here’s what she had to say. What does it mean when my doctor says I have an abnormal Pap test? An abnormal Pap test result means there are cells on your cervix that don’t look normal under a microscope. This fairly common condition is known as cervical dysplasia, or pre-invasive cervical disease. Does my abnormal Pap test mean I’m going to have cervical cancer? An abnormal Pap test doesn’t mean you have cancer or that you’ll have cancer in the future. In most cases, women with an abnormal Pap test don’t end up developing cervical cancer. But some do have pre-cancer, which is very treatable. What causes an abnormal Pap test? Abnormal cell changes in the cervix are often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Usually, HPV infections clear up on their own. But some HPV strains can cause high-grade dysplasia and several types of cancer, including cervical cancer. Sometimes, abnormal cells are caused by a yeast infection or a bacterial infection, both of which are very treatable. Or, if you’ve already been through menopause, these cell changes may be the result of age. A weakened immune system and HIV can also make you more likely to have an abnormal Pap test. But most women with abnormal Pap test results are perfectly healthy. What’s the difference between low-grade and...

Clinical trial gives recurrent glioblastoma survivor hope

I was a just a young, 20-year-old in college student when the symptoms began. In early November 2005, I started having bad headaches and dizzy spells, and my ears became sensitive to sound. My local physician ordered an MRI and EKG. On Dec. 16, I met with a neurologist to get the results. He told me I had a brain tumor and would need surgery to remove it. Later that afternoon, I met with the surgeon. He explained everything and didn’t seem worried. We scheduled a follow-up appointment for the next week. But just a few days later, I had a grand mal seizure and went to the ER. Once I was stable enough, I was flown by Life Flight to a larger hospital. Sadly, I wasn’t awake – I’m sure the helicopter ride would’ve been fun! Brain tumor diagnosis and a second opinion I had my first brain tumor surgery the next week. I was diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a type of brain cancer. The first oncologist I saw told me I only had two to five years to live. I was so aggravated. I was 20, and my life hadn’t even started! I was in denial, so we went to MD Anderson for a second opinion. During my first appointment, I learned that I actually had a different type of brain tumor — anaplastic astrocytoma. I completed six weeks of radiation therapy, followed by a new type of chemotherapy called Temodar®, which is now commonly prescribed for brain tumors. I started taking the Temodar® pills once a month for five days at a time in May 2006. I...

5 tips for dealing with cancer treatment side effects

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 38. My treatment consisted of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation over the course of about 11 months — and with it, came many of the same side effects I’d been hearing about for years from other cancer patients. As a radiologist at MD Anderson, I was already familiar with many of these side effects. But until I became a patient myself, I don’t think I fully understood what patients go through. For instance, I knew it was emotionally painful to lose your hair, but for me, it was also physically painful. It actually hurt when my hair was falling out. I didn’t expect that. The most troublesome side effects of breast cancer treatment for me were nausea, hair loss and mild neuropathy, but there were others, too. Here are some tips for dealing with my five worst: Nausea. Eat smaller portions of food and drink fluids more frequently during the day. This helps combat the nausea that often accompanies chemotherapy. And if you’re prescribed a medication for nausea, take it. The one I was prescribed (ondansetron) was effective, but only if I took it regularly and before the nausea actually began. Hair loss. Dr. Jennifer Litton wrote me a prescription for a “cranial prosthesis” (also known as a wig) because insurance companies are often more inclined to cover the cost if it’s presented that way. Sometimes I left my head bare because it was so hot outside. But usually, I just covered it with scarves or hats, some of which I received free at the MD Anderson Beauty...

Immunotherapy clinical trial gives hope to leukemia, melanoma survivor

An acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis (AML) in May 2016 came as no real surprise to Julia Dutton. She’d been fighting debilitating fatigue for a couple of weeks. Then her gums became so painful and swollen, “they felt like balloons and looked like if you stuck them with a pin, they’d pop,” Julia says. Thinking she had a gum infection, Julia went to her dentist for a teeth cleaning. That brought no relief. When her vision became blurry, too, Julia went to an urgent care clinic, where she learned that her hemoglobin counts were very low. The doctor said she probably had cancer. “I felt so bad that day that it really was no surprise,” Julia says. “I’ve always been a real active person, but I was out of breath just walking up the stairs. I was so tired I couldn’t even function.” Choosing a clinical trial at MD Anderson Within three days of her diagnosis, Julia had her first appointment at MD Anderson. “My sister had been there in 2014,” she says. “So I knew that’s where I wanted to be.” During her first visit, Julia met with Alessandra Ferrajoli, M.D., who confirmed her acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis with a bone marrow biopsy. Ferrajoli asked Julia to consider a Phase I/Phase II clinical trial under Farhad Ravandi-Kashani, M.D. It involved an immunotherapy drug, nivolumab. “At the time, I didn’t know anything about immunotherapy,” Julia says. “But I called a doctor friend of mine, and he said, ‘Oh, yeah. You want to be on it.’ So I joined. Once I read up about immunotherapy, I was all over it.” Pneumonia...

Humor, love get non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor through stem cell transplant

They were inseparable for nearly a month, but Kate Arnold definitely felt more hate than love for Sheeba, her “constant companion” — and IV pole. “I insisted she have a name,” Kate says, laughing. “I don’t know how I came up with Sheeba. It just seemed fitting.” While Sheeba was a critical part of Kate’s allogeneic stem cell transplant, she also was Kate’s way of injecting a little humor into the difficult and painful process she underwent in 2008 to treat her non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “There’s no way to tell someone or prepare someone for how difficult it really is,” Kate says. “But if that’s your option, the risk makes sense.” Start the stem cell transplant process on the right foot Kate says it’s easier to make it through the stem cell transplant process when you pick a hospital where you’re absolutely comfortable. “You have to trust the staff that’s taking care of you, you have to trust the doctor, and you have to do everything that they tell you,” she says. “Whatever they tell you to do, you do it, and you have to be able to trust that.” And you’ll need a vision. “What’s going to motivate you to get through this?” she says. “For me, I just wanted to be healthy so that I could watch my daughters grow up.” Have a sense of humor If there’s one thing that you’ll need every day, it’s going to be that sense of humor, Kate says. She suggests watching a funny TV show or movie. “Or name your IV pole,” she jokes. Lean on love to recover from the...