Women Prioritize Hairstyling Over OBGYN visits

September 21, 2015
Kelly Johnson

In the past 12 months, women have been more likely to have seen their primary physician, dentist, eye doctor, and hairdresser than their OBGYN, according to results of a new survey.

Sharyn Lewin, MD

In the past 12 months, women have been more likely to have seen their primary physician, dentist, eye doctor, and hairdresser than their OBGYN, according to results of a new survey.

The survey of 1001 women in the United States was conducted in conjunction with Gynecologic Cancers Awareness Month by Genentech to gauge women’s understanding of gynecologic cancers.

According to the findings, women in the survey were unlikely to be able to identify signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers and less than half had a regular OBGYN.

“We should educate as many people as possible about the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer as well as cervical and uterine cancer,” said Sharyn Lewin, MD, Holy Name Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital. “We need to really stress that women need to be advocates for their own healthcare.”

Although the survey found that a majority of women (78%) are concerned about their risk of cancer, only 10% have asked their OBGYN about it during their visits.

Only 57% of women reported that they think annual OBGYN visits are necessary, and nearly one-third said that they are not planning to go this year.

Over the past year, 78% were more likely to have seen their hairstylist, 73% were more likely to have seen their primary doctor, 71% were more likely to have seen their dentist, and 53% were more likely to have seen their eye doctor than their OBGYN.

“I think a lot of women don’t understand the importance that even after they’ve had their children or gone through menopause, they still need to go for an annual visit to see their OBGYN in addition to their internist. It’s important to have these annual visits even if they’re feeling well,” Lewin said. “Some gynecologic cancers, such as cervical cancer, often don’t have symptoms, which is why the Pap smear is so important.”

Another factor that could help explain why women are neglecting their gynecologic health is family. The survey found that 91% of women prioritize their children’s health over their own, 67% prioritize the health of their significant other, and 43% prioritize the health of their parents.

“Women are often so busy taking care of their children, their significant other, or their parent that we unfortunately find in many cases that they consider their health to be at the bottom of the list,” Lewin said.

While it’s the patient’s responsibility to follow through with their annual OBGYN visits, Lewin agreed that it’s also the doctor’s responsibility to be proactive in informing their patients.

Majority of the women surveyed (62%) believe that it is their doctor’s obligation to tell them when to be concerned about gynecologic cancers.

“We as physicians are responsible for appropriately educating patients,” Lewin said. “Unfortunately, we do see time and time again that women are diagnosed very late, and their outcomes aren’t as good. I try to empower women to feel comfortable talking to their doctors about these problems, going to their annual visits, asking questions, and being advocates for their healthcare.”

All women are at risk for gynecologic cancer, but ovarian cancer is most frequently diagnosed in Caucasian women aged 55 to 64. Hispanic and African American women are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, which is typically diagnosed between age 35 and 44, according to the National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results.

There are new treatments on the horizon for gynecologic cancers, Lewin explained, including Avastin, which was the first FDA-approved angiogenesis inhibitor and was recently approved to treat women with advanced cervical cancer and certain types of ovarian cancer in combination with chemotherapy. Intraperitoneal chemotherapy has also proven to be an effective treatment of ovarian cancer.

The results of this study come at an appropriate time, as September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month.

“Among all the cancers, gynecologic cancers are not talked about that much, but they should be because they can be preventable,” Lewin said. “Cervical cancer is a cancer that shouldn’t even exist. Women just have to get their regular Pap smear.”

For more information on the prevention, early detection, and optimal treatment of gynecologic cancers, visit www.foundationforwomenscancer.org.