150 Pap Smears and Counting!

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Sandy Mux and Sarah Messmer, discussing the plan for the day before starting a pap smear clinic.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women of reproductive age in Guatemala.  By the time symptoms appear, it is usually too late to cure and leads to the death of many young women, often in their 30s and 40s.  Pap smears have been an effective screening test in many countries, significantly lowering the rate of deaths due to cervical cancer.  In many of our communities, however, a large number of women have never had a pap smear.  On the coast, for example, over a third of women who came to the clinic had never before had a pap smear.

As part of our comprehensive women’s health programming, we have been offering pap smear clinics on a monthly basis in four target communities in the highlands and on the coast.  Since January, we have already provided 150 pap smears—with more to come!  These pap smears are sent to the lab of Walter Guerra, the director of INCAN (Guatemala’s national cancer hospital), to ensure high-quality readings of the slides.  We also provide complete follow up for our patients if they need further exams, treatments, or surgeries.

Over the past few months, we have successfully trained our nurse, Sandy Mux, to provide high-quality pap smears.  Sandy is now an expert at these exams, as well as counseling women on cervical cancer screening, birth control options, sexually transmitted infections, and other women’s health problems.  She is quickly becoming a beloved provider in these communities: one patient, for example, has already requested her as a daughter-in-law.

What is a typical pap smear clinic like?  At our most recent clinic, we worked from about 8:30 am to 5 pm in the home of one of the members of the women’s committee.  We provided 16 pap smears, treated 3 women and their partners for sexually transmitted infections, treated 4 women for yeast infections, gave out and explained 24 pap smear results from the last clinic, arranged for one woman to have a follow-up coloscopy, performed 3 breast exams, and still managed to have time for a lunch of rice and beans.

As the year goes on, our goal is to reach the majority of the women in our target communities, and continue to train Sandy to provide high-quality primary women’s health care.