Frequently Asked Questions
Discovering cervical abnormalities early through regular pap smears has been shown to significantly decrease the chance of developing cervical cancer. The growing number of women who get yearly pap smears today accounts for a significant drop in cervical cancer in the United States over the last 25 years.With early detection, precancerous changes in the cervix can usually be treated before they develop into cancer.
Who needs a pap smear?
Getting an annual pap smear is the best prevention for women against cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women get a pap smear three years after they become sexually active or when they reach the age of 21, whichever comes first. This simple diagnostic procedure involves the removal of a tiny sample of cells from the opening of the cervix for laboratory testing. Pap smears are typically done during an annual gynecological check-up or routine physical.
Pap tests may detect abnormal cell changes long before they turn into cancer. In rare cases, a cervical abnormality may be missed on a pap smear. For this reason, all women should be alert to the possible symptoms of cervical cancer, which include persistent bleeding and bleeding after intercourse. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor, even if your last pap smear was normal.
What does an abnormal pap smear mean?
An abnormal result indicates that the cells on the outer layer of the cervix have changed in an unusual way. This does NOT mean you have cancer. Precancerous cell changes are 10 to 20 times more frequent than true cervical cancer. Sometimes, though, these unusual cells develop into preinvasive or precancerous lesions called “dysplasias” (dis-play-shas). If the dysplasia is severe, your physician will recommend removing the cells. Untreated, dysplasia can develop into cervical cancer.
An abnormal pap smear may also indicate the presence of the human papilloma virus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease also known as genital warts. Once a woman has been diagnosed with HPV, she needs to get pap tests more regularly because HPV is associated with the development of dysplasia.
Other times, abnormal pap smears are caused by infections that can be treated with medication.
How do I find out if the abnormal pap smear is linked to cancer?
If your pap smear shows an abnormality, your physician may suggest you have another diagnostic test called a colposcopy (col-pas-co-pee). This test provides a more specific and reliable indication of precancer or HPV infection than the pap smear. In a colposcopy, the physician applies a mild, vinegar solution to the cervix making any abnormal cells more visible. Using a binocular magnification device called a colposcope, the physician looks for abnormalities on your cervix and takes biopsies (small samples of tissues) from the most abnormal area. These samples are then sent to the laboratory for examination.
How are serious cervical abnormalities treated?
If you are diagnosed with moderate or severe dysplasia, you might need to have an additional biopsy performed after a colposcopy to rule out cancer and to remove additional abnormal cells. Your physician may perform either a cone biopsy or LEEP (loop electrocautery excision) procedure, depending on which is more appropriate in your case.
The cone biopsy is performed in a surgical outpatient unit under general anesthesia. The physician removes a cone-shape piece of the cervix with a scalpel. The LEEP procedure is performed under local anesthesia and employs a wire loop supplied with an electrical current to remove the tissue. Both diagnostic techniques are also used to treat some precancers that are restricted to the lower portion of the cervix.
If your physician detects a lesion elsewhere on the cervix, laser surgery may be recommended. Here, a beam of light is directed on the abnormal area and the heat kills the cells.
What happens if I don’t seek treatment for an abnormal pap smear?
Precancer is a warning that you are at risk of developing cancer. Therefore, if your pap test suggests a precancerous change in the cervix, it is in your best interest to seek further evaluation as soon as possible. Close, careful monitoring through pap smears and colposcopy is essential in preventing precancerous lesions from progressing to invasive cancer.
Invasive cervical cancer is treatable through radiation and/or hysterectomy. However, these treatments are both more complicated and more prolonged than the treatments for precancers described above. Cure rates are also lower, depending on the extent of the cancer.
If you detect and eliminate precancerous lesions promptly, your chances for a cure are excellent. From 90-95 percent of women treated by cone biopsy, the LEEP procedure, and laser are cured. Five percent of patients need retreatment.
Can I prevent cervical abnormalities?
You can reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other precancerous abnormalities by getting routine pap smears and protecting yourself against the HPV virus. Limiting your sexual partners and using condoms will reduce, but not eliminate your risk of HPV. If you smoke, giving up cigarettes will also cut your chances of cervical cancer.
What are clinical trials?
When laboratory research shows that a new treatment method has promise, patients with cancer have the opportunity to receive the treatment in clinical trials or protocols.
By participating in a clinical trial you may have the first chance to benefit from improved treatment methods and the opportunity to make an important contribution to medical science.
To find out more about current clinical trials that you may be able to participate in, ask your doctor or call 215-955-1661 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.
What is Jefferson's implant consulting process?
Patients can be seen at the multidisciplinary program, which is conducted at the Bodine Center for Cancer Treatment at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. This program has radiation oncologists, urologists, medical oncologists and pathologists. Patients with early stage prostate cancers have a number of treatment options and we prefer patients be presented with those options before selecting seed implementation. Having the opportunity to ask questions to the respective specialists in a single setting is something our patients have found useful in order to make informed decisions.
What kind of physician typically performs the radioactive seed implantation procedure and in what kind of setting?
Radioactive seed implantation is performed in our hospital setting by a team consisting of a radiation oncologist, urologist and a radiation physicist. This is a highly operator dependent procedure and can reflect on the experience of the team.
What should a patient look for in an implant program?
The implant process is the summation of the skill and expertise of the team, which includes a radiation oncologist, urologist and radiation physicist. Because achieving good results with brachytherapy requires substantial technical skill, patients should look for a program with a proven track record.
At Thomas Jefferson University Hospital we have devoted a great deal of time and energy to our implant program, which is recognized nationally and internationally for the research that has resulted from our work.
Describe the planning procedure.
Imaging of the prostate is the first step, which is performed with a CT and /or ultrasound. These images are used to estimate the number of radioactive seeds that will be required for a successful implant.
On the day of the implant, the radiation oncologist, urologist and physicist perform an ultrasound study of the prostate in the operating room to determine the exact location of each needle and seed. A treatment plan is generated carefully based upon this information.
After a careful review of the treatment plan by each member of the team, a coordinate map of the prostate is created, which describes the location coordinates for needle and seed. This treatment plan is used in the operating room and followed closely. Needle and seed placement is confirmed with both ultrasound and fluoroscopy during the procedure. Additional seeds are available in order to make adjustments at the time of the implant.
Describe the length of the procedure and the type of anesthesia.
Typically, the procedure takes about 1½ - 2 hours and is done under general anesthesia. We prefer general anesthesia because our patients seem to tolerate it quite well. Generally, there is no sensation of pain after the procedure and painkillers are unnecessary.
What can the patient expect to feel like after the procedure?
Patients can expect to feel some tenderness and bruising in the affected area. Most patients require no prescription pain medications. After the procedure, most patients are somewhat tired and want to relax. Patients are not limited in their activity level after the procedure.
What side effects might occur days after the procedure and how long do they last?
As a result of the implant procedure, some men experience mild discomfort in the groin area for two to three days, which is managed very effectively with mild analgesics. Some blood may be seen in the urine and sperm for a few days after the procedure. This is normal and stops after two to three days. The scrotal and perineal area can also become swollen/bruised or black and blue.
The effects of the radiation from the seeds usually begin one to two weeks after seed implantation. The main symptoms are urinary difficulties, such as frequency, urgency, weak stream or slight pain. These can last for 2 - 6 months. These can usually be effectively managed with simple medications.
What are the advantages of permanent seed implantation as compared to other treatment options?
For most patients, seed implantation is a one-time, non-surgical, low-impact procedure. Patient can return to normal activity, including work, within one to three days, with little or no pain.
When else might permanent seed implant therapy be considered?
This procedure is an alternative for men who have early-stage prostate cancer with a low risk of disease outside the gland. Permanent seed implantation is also an attractive option for men whose poor health precludes radical prostatectomy.
Does the radiation from permanent seed implants pose any danger to organs or tissue surrounding the prostate?
Because seeds are implanted accurately into the prostate, they pose little risk to surrounding organs or tissue. The radioactive isotopes used in this procedure (Iodine and Palladium) decay over a period of a few months.
Can you tell me a little about the Infusion Center?
The Center features spacious, light-filled treatment bays, individual flat-screen TVs and relaxing décor. There are 20 reclining chairs in the unit along with chairs for anyone who may have accompanied you. There are curtains around each unit that can be used for privacy.
The Infusion Center tends to be cold. We can provide blankets if you are feeling chilly or feel free to bring a blanket from home if it will make you feel more comfortable.
Laptops and cell phones are permitted and can provide instructions on how to connect to the Internet through our Hospital Wi-Fi system, JeffGuest.
Can I bring a family member with me?
On the day of treatment, we encourage you to bring one family member or friend with you. Depending on the length of treatment and medication administered, you may be too tired to drive home. Please understand that many of our patients are at an increased risk for infection from viruses due to compromised immune systems. It is for this reason that a strict policy has been implemented that no children under the age of 16 may be permitted in the Infusion Center unless they are receiving treatment themselves.
Am I allowed to eat before treatment?
There are no restrictions on what you can eat on the day of treatment and you can eat anything during the treatment process. You can bring in your own food or eat what is provided by the Infusion Center. We have snacks, juices, coffee, tea and sodas available at all times and sandwiches are available at lunchtime.
There are also many places outside of the Infusion Center where you may purchase food.
Am I allowed to take my medications on the day of treatment?
If you are taking any prescription medications for any conditions, you are permitted to take those on the day of treatment unless your oncologist has instructed otherwise. If you are unsure, contact your doctor.
Where can I park?
Valet parking is available on 10th street between Market and Chestnut Streets in the Rothman Building. The cost of parking is dependent upon the length of stay. Your parking ticket will be validated at the end of your stay and costs can range anywhere from $2.00 to $4.00. You may also self-park in the Laz Parking Garage on 10th and Chestnut Streets.
What is the check-in process at the Infusion Center?
Upon arrival you will check in on the 2nd floor. At the reception desk, you will see a computer monitor and you need to enter your name in the computer and take a seat in the waiting room. If you have any questions on how to do this, one of the receptionists can help you.
Within a short time, someone will call your name and you will be asked to verify your identity and contact information some questions and asked to provide copies of insurance cards, referrals if needed and any co-pays to complete your registration. Once you have completed the registration process, you take a seat in the waiting room until your name is called to have your lab work done. If you do not have a port, you will be brought back to have a phlebotomist or nurse draw your blood.
If you do have a port, you will be taken into the Infusion Center to have your labs done via your port by an assigned registered nurse.
If you are seeing your physician on the same day of your treatment, you will do that after your labs have been drawn. The physician offices are located on the 3rd or 4th floors.
Once you have completed your physician visit, you will come back to the Infusion Center where you will be seated and treatment will begin.
What lab work will I need done?
Your physician will order blood work to be drawn prior to each treatment to ensure that your lab values are within range to proceed with treatment. Labs will either be drawn from our highly skilled phlebotomists or by a registered nurse if you have an infusaport.
Once the labs are drawn and sent to the lab, it will take approximately 60 to 90 minutes for your physician to get the results. We encourage: You can ask your doctor to have your lab work done several days prior to treatment to avoid the wait time and to speed up your treatment process.
How long can I expect my treatment to take?
The length of your treatment is dependent on the type of chemotherapy your physician has ordered based on your type of cancer.
On your first visit, your chemotherapy is mixed specifically for you and your type of cancer at our onsite pharmacy. The pharmacist does not start mixing the chemotherapy until they receive a checklist from your assigned nurse.
This checklist contains your lab results and weight, which needs to be a certain range for you to receive treatment. If the lab values and weight are acceptable, the pharmacist will mix the therapy. This process can take approximately 30-60 minutes depending upon the type of chemotherapy you are receiving.
Overall you can expect to be there anywhere from an hour to several hours.
Will I need an IV to receive treatment?
When you come in for your treatment a registered nurse will be assigned to you. They will determine whether you require an IV or if you have a port that needs to be accessed.
What happens if I miss my appointment?
If you miss your appointment, please be sure to notify your physician so you can be rescheduled for another time. Please contact your physician’s office directly to reschedule.
What if I am running late for my appointment?
If you are running late, please notify the front desk. The telephone number is 215-955-8874. You will not be cancelled but you may be delayed in being seated.
How many times will I need to receive chemotherapy treatments?
Your physician will discuss your treatment and determine how often you will need to receive treatment. Depending upon your type of cancer, a chemo cycle could be every week, every two weeks or every three weeks.
What is a Complete Blood Count (CBC)?
This is a lab value that helps your physician determine if you are able to receive treatment. It looks at your white blood count, hemoglobin (the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs.) and platelets (important for blood clotting). If any of these values are extremely low, treatment may be delayed and you will be rescheduled in a week or so to give your counts time to recover.
If your white blood count is too low, you may receiving an injection that will boost your count to prevent you from developing an infection or your physician may put you on antibiotics. If your hemoglobin level or platelet count are too low, you may require a blood transfusion.
Where do I go for blood transfusions if I need one?
If you need a blood transfusion because of a low hemoglobin level or platelet count, a blood specimen is drawn and sent to the Blood Bank so that they can match your blood type.
Once your blood type is matched, a bag is prepared and we are notified that it’s ready. Your physician may order pre-medication (Tylenol or Benadryl) prior to the infusion to avoid a possible blood transfusion reaction. Typically the doctor will order 2 units.
This entire process can take up to 4 hours.
What if I have a problem after I get home?
If you have any issues after you receive your treatment please call 215-955-8874 and you will be directed on what to do.
If it is an emergency, please call 911 immediately or go to the nearest hospital.
What are the side effects of chemotherapy?
You may experience some side effects after receiving your treatment. The most commonly reported symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, peripheral neuropathies, and fatigue. Before your treatment begins, you will be given anti-nausea medications, which will help you during your stay.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different and you may experience none of these effects, some or all. It’s important to share the side effects with your physician who may be able to help you manage the side effects with medications. If your symptoms are severe, please contact your physician immediately.
Also, the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine offers an Integrative Cancer Care Program that provides complementary therapies such as vitamins, special diets, herbs and acupuncture that may help with some of your symptoms.
You also have access to oncology social workers who are trained in individual and family therapy and are available to meet with you to assist with the psychosocial impact of cancer treatment, and can provide a valuable link to available community resources.
I understand I may lose my hair after treatment. Where can I purchase a wig?
Jefferson's Wig Program for Cancer Patients was created to help ease the stress and/or embarrassment of sudden hair loss experienced by our patients. If you are being treated for cancer, either as an inpatient or an outpatient at Jefferson, and you have hair loss, we are happy to provide you with a free synthetic wig, turban or hat.
To make an appointment, place call Patient Services at 215-955-7777 or 5-7777 (from inside the Hospital).
How can I receive palliative care?
Palliative care is provided if a person has a serious illness and one or more of the following:
- Patient, family, or team need assistance with complex decision making and determination of goals of care
- Difficult-to-control pain or other symptom distress (such as dyspnea, delirium, nausea) related to a serious medical illness
- Difficult-to-control psychosocial or spiritual issues related to a serious medical illness
- Multiple hospitalizations for same diagnosis
- Progressive decline in functional status
- Progressive metastatic cancer
- New diagnosis of life limiting illness for symptom control or determination of goals of care
- Need for Advance Care Planning or clarification of DNR status
- Utilization of ICU setting in patient with documented poor prognosis
- Prolonged ICU stay or transfer to the ICU setting without evidence of progress
- Questions regarding artificial nutrition or hydration in cognitively impaired, seriously ill or actively dying patients
- Patient or family requests for care determined by primary team to be differences in family and team goals of care
- Patient, family, or team request for information regarding hospice appropriateness
What can I expect?
At Jefferson, palliative care is provided in the hospital and in an outpatient setting. In addition, you can expect:
- Relief from symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, constipation, nausea, loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping
- Support with emotional, spiritual, or financial stressors that may affect you or a family member during treatment for cancer
- Help carrying on with your daily life
- Improved ability to go through medical treatments.
- Help with understanding your cancer diagnosis and your choices for medical care
- An improved overall quality of life
Will my insurance cover palliative care?
Most insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, cover palliative care. If costs concern you, a social worker or financial consultant can help you navigate through the benefits process.
Here at Jefferson, we want our patients to be as educated and informed as possible when it comes to their cancer care. We suggest you bring a list of questions and a notepad to ensure you get the most information possible during your visit with us. Some of the most common questions to ask your radiation oncologist are listed below.
- What type and stage of cancer do I have?
- How will radiation therapy help me?
- How does radiation therapy work? Is it internal or external?
- How many and how long will I receive radiation treatments?
- What are the chances that radiation therapy will work?
- What is the chance that the cancer will spread or come back if I do not have radiation therapy?
- Will I need chemotherapy, surgery or other treatments?
- How can I expect to feel during treatment and in the weeks following radiation therapy?
- Can I drive myself to and from the treatment facility?
- Will I be able to continue my normal activities?
- What side effects may occur from the radiation?
- Will radiation therapy affect my ability to have children?
- What are some of the support groups I can turn to during treatment?