Cervical health is an essential part of well-health screenings and can help detect cervical cancer, one of the more preventable types of cancer. January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and highlights the steps that can help prevent cervical cancer.
According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, more than 13,000 people are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer every year. And while any case of cancer is one too many, cervical cancer rates were once much higher and more deadly than they are now. Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the United States, but several developments have led to dramatic positive change.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most men and women will be infected with one of the strains of HPV at some point. Currently, 80 million Americans are infected with HPV, with 14 million additional infections yearly. In most cases, the virus will stay present in the body and will go away, like many viruses do, within a couple of years. There are more troublesome strains that will remain in the body and can cause different types of cell changes that can lead to cancer.
According to the CDC, there are a few ways the medical community can approach prevention detection, and treatment. The introduction of the HPV vaccine, regular Pap smears, and tests to detect the presence of HPV have dramatically reduced the incidence of cervical cancer in the United States.
Development of the HPV vaccine was a game-changer for preventing this kind of disease. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV, a virus with many strains. Some strains of the virus can cause genital warts while other strains cause few or no symptoms but can lead to changes in the cervix over time that cause cancer if left undetected and untreated.
Although adults can get the HPV series of vaccinations up until age 45 (it is most recommended up until age 26), it is highly recommended for youths beginning around age 11 or 12. Receiving the vaccine before any potential exposure to HPV can prevent infection with the virus, but isn’t a treatment if the virus is already present.
Increasing attention to screening for cancerous changes in the cervical cells with Pap smears and for detection of any HPV levels in cells (two separate tests that can be done at the same visit) has upped the detection rate of more treatable precancerous changes. If cervical cell changes are detected, treatment options are available and will depend on the findings. Removal of the precancerous cells may be recommended to prevent cancerous changes. And a positive HPV test with a normal Pap smear offers valuable information that may lead to more frequent screening to catch changes early.
Talking to Patients and Families
Despite its effectiveness, rates of HPV vaccination lag behind what many medical professionals consider ideal. If patients and families in your practice seem hesitant, it might help to offer a few facts. The vaccine is to prevent cancer, but because HPV is transmitted sexually, some families relate the vaccine with condoning sex. The more you can separate the two so that the concern is for long-term health and is for potential exposure, the more success you might have. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ HPV Champion Toolkit is another resource to help increase vaccination rates which will lead to fewer cases of cervical cancer.
The most important prevention for preventing cervical cancer is to keep up with regular screenings. If you haven’t had a Pap smear in a while or have been postponing your annual visit because of a packed schedule, put it back on your high-priority, staying healthy list. Outcomes are drastically different when these changes are caught at a treatable stage.
The thyroid gland might be small, but any changes to its function can pack a huge wallop on how you feel every day. During January’s national Thyroid Awareness Month, pay attention to any possible symptoms that could indicate problems in you or any of your patients.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), some of the more common diseases of this small gland include an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), and even thyroid cancer. Symptoms of these endocrine diseases can overlap with each other and can be mistaken for many other conditions.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism are frequently dismissed by patients. As a nurse, your patients may complain about being excessively tired or lacking energy or even that they have a worsening mood. They may have noticed their hair is thinning or falling out or seems especially brittle. Hypothyroidism can cause people to gain weight and to feel cold in temperatures that were previously comfortable. Often, people will attribute these symptoms to stress, a particularly busy time, or seasonal changes.
It might seem that symptoms of hyperthyroidism would be the polar opposite of having hypothyroidism, but that’s not always the case. Because hyperthyroidism can speed up the metabolism, patients might also pass off symptoms like a racing heart, more-than-normal sweating, or mood changes to job stress, lots of activity, or even an increased fitness routine. But they can also experience the fatigue and hair loss that hypothyroidism presents. Some patients may notice more prominent eyes (Graves’ disease) or even feel their thyroid gland itself is enlarged.
According to the American Cancer Society, rates of this cancer have increased in the last decade in young adults (3 percent increase annually) and adolescents (4 percent increase annually), and even those who have had no prior thyroid problems can have thyroid cancer. This highly treatable cancer often presents as a lump in the neck rather than with symptoms like those of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, and even blood tests don’t show anything abnormal.
If any of your patients mention these symptoms, a blood test may be in order. According to the ATA, a simple lab test will check thyroid hormone levels. If the levels of thyroxine (T4) or triiodothyronine (T3) or of the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) are too high or too low, follow up will help determine next steps of medication, treatment, and referral to a specialist. If you or they notice any kind of lump in the thyroid gland, follow up tests are necessary to check for cancer.
Thyroid problems are fairly common and approximately 20 million Americans have some kind of thyroid disease. Listen to your patients as they describe any physical, cognitive, or emotional changes they have experienced to help detect any changes in the early stages.
As 2021 dawns fresh and new, lots of nurses worldwide feel like they are dragging to the top of the calendar. The COIVD-19 pandemic changed almost everything about the way nurses work, interact with their patients, collaborate with each other and their teams, care for their families, and see their profession. As the pandemic continues to surge through the world, leaving 2020 behind is welcome, but it also brings uncertainty.
January’s typical challenge to commit to and work toward New Year’s resolutions seems tone deaf right now. Just making it through the trauma of 2020 is a victory and maybe the best resolution right now is to change the theme. After all, it is a new year and with that comes new hope, especially as vaccines have begun to roll out across the country. You can honor the calendar change but skip the pressure.
Here’s how to make resolutions work for you this year.
Make Resolutions to Let Go, Not Add
Resolutions don’t always have to be about you doing better, doing more, or taking on additional responsibilities or new habits. Resolutions for 2021 can focus on letting go of the things that you once thought were working for you or that were worthwhile but really aren’t.
Do you have a friend who makes you feel bad about yourself, a goal that was really someone else’s dream for you, or near impossible standards you set for yourself? Is holding onto these things helping you move forward in any way? Letting go of what drags you down will free up time and energy that you can use for what really matters to you.
Focus Where It Counts
You need sleep, nutritious food, connections with loved ones, fresh air, and plenty of water to be the best and most focused nurse you can be. Focus your energy on getting the things that bring you that goal. Maybe 2021 isn’t going to be the year you begin an ambitious fitness or weight loss plan. If you can hardly keep your head above water right now, don’t pressure yourself to start your grad degree, write that book, buy your first house, or land that new job. The world might look different in a few months, so don’t give up on your goals—just make sure they are realistic.
Make Small Changes
This time isn’t going to last forever. Things will change and they will get better. Keep your goals in sight, but take the time to refine them, decide why you want them, and map how to achieve them in small manageable steps. Are you trying to save money? Start cutting out small expenses. Do you want to be more fit? Start with 25 squats or jumping jacks every day or try 15 minutes of yoga three times a week. If you’re delaying an advanced degree, find a couple of webinars to keep you moving forward toward your goal. Clear out one catch-all drawer instead of tackling the whole kitchen. Those small successes lead to bigger ones.
Care for You
Nurses find this to be one of the hardest tasks on their lists. There is always something more important to take care of, more pressing to fix, or more demanding to pay attention to. What makes you feel cared for? As 2021 dawns, it’s going to be essential to find that and fit it into your life in a way that makes sense and doesn’t put more demands on you. It could be as simple as adding a few houseplants to clean the air and offer restful greenery to look at. Maybe it’s having the softest socks to slide into when you get home or finding a funny (or scary or spiritual or just interesting) podcast to lift your spirits. It could be spending quiet time in nature or perfecting your kickboxing moves—you’ll know it when you want more of it in your life. Listen to that and make it happen whenever you can.
In a year when nurses are on the frontlines of a deadly pandemic, it can’t be a surprise that nurses have once again earned the most-trusted top spot on the annual Gallup poll of the professions with the highest honesty and ethics. This year, nurses landed firmly in the top spot with 89 percent of respondents rating nurses as high or very high on honesty and ethics. The results are higher than ever before, as in 2019, nurses earned a still-outstanding 85 percent.
If you’re a nurse, take pride in knowing the survey results showed an appreciation for the care and professionalism that nurses provide every single day. And that appreciation is based in a public trust that is overwhelming. Since the Gallup poll began in 1999, nurses have earned the top spot as a most trusted profession in all years but one (in 2001, firefighters earned the top spot with a 90 percent rating).
Rounding out the top three spots of the Gallup poll are medical doctors, who earned 77 percent, and grade-school teachers with a 75 percent ethics rating. At the other end of the list, members of Congress received an 8 percent rating (down from last year’s 12 percent), and car salespeople also received 8 percent.
With a divisive political climate permeating the country, the poll seems to unite both major political parties in the way they see specific professions. The majority of respondents in both groups rated nurses, medical doctors, and grade-school teachers in the high/very high categories. Nurses were rated high or very high by 87 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats.
The survey results reflect a summer 2020 survey of confidence levels in various institutions that found similar rising rates of respect in medical institutions and public school systems. Public school systems enjoyed a rise in confidence levels to 41 percent (12 points higher than last year). Medical institutions received a 51 percent level of high confidence, sweeping past the previous level by 15 percentage points.
The way nurses have handled the emotional, physical, and spiritual load of the pandemic is not lost on the public. These high results are likely based, in part, by the expertise, dedication, empathy, devotion, and professionalism shown by nurses everywhere throughout the difficult last year. As nurses have reported this year, people are finally getting to see the real work of nurses and they are filled with respect for what they do on each shift.
Earning the top spot in the most-trusted survey results is another point of pride for nurses and the nursing profession nationwide.
If your job offers an employee benefits package, it’s likely that there are some benefits you aren’t taking advantage of. In every job, the benefits package is almost as important (or sometimes equally important) as the salary you’re offered. Benefits cover everything from your health insurance to your vacation time. But in between those common benefits are some that you may overlook because you aren’t quite sure how much of a benefit they really are to you.
As 2020 nears to a close, take a few minutes to review what your organization gives you as part of your employment package. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, benefits can add close to another one-third of the employee’s compensation costs.
Employee Assistance Program
Commonly called an EAP, this option allows you to talk to a counselor when you need some guidance getting through a period of personal or work-related stress. Commonly, the EAP covers a set amount of free counseling sessions for each different issue you want to discuss (family members may also receive this same benefit for the same amounts of time). If, after the three sessions, you and the therapist feel like you would benefit from longer-term treatment, you can find those resources. But you may just have needed a new perspective and this benefit gives you that for no cost.
If you have a retirement plan, you might have access to financial counselors as well. They can give you some guidance on your finances, steps you might need to take for a more secure retirement, or some guidance around saving for a home, educational costs, or a long-awaited vacation. And if your company offers any kind of retirement match, be sure you are taking full advantage of that benefit.
Organizations offer employees all kinds of additional insurance as employee benefits options. If you’re looking for life insurance or long-term care insurance options, you may be able to get it through your company. If you want the security of short or long-term disability insurance, find out what your company offers just so you’ll know if you need it. The amounts you are likely to pay through your insurer will be competitive (some organizations may offer life insurance for free up to a certain amount—take advantage of that) and it’s helpful to know you’re protected.
Wellness Reimbursement and Activities
Do you have a membership at the local gym? Do you take lunchtime yoga at work (a nice benefit in itself!) or use acupuncture to help with a sore neck? All of those services may be reimbursed or compensated in part by your benefits package. You may get a set dollar amount per quarter for health classes or gym memberships. More companies are also offering reimbursement for therapies and practices that were preciously not covered—for instance, chiropractic visits with designated providers. Your employer invests in these benefits because healthy employees are better employees. According to the Society for Human Resources Management, in 2019 employers shelled out an average of $15,000 per employee for health insurance benefits (that’s in addition to your annual costs), so keeping employees healthy keeps that number down.
Pull out your benefits package before the end of the year and commit to using at least one benefit you haven’t taken advantage of yet. You could save money, boost your wellness goals, and plan for a more secure future. Don’t let those benefits slip by you.