Pap smear shows normal cells on the left and human papillomavirus (HPV) infected cells on the right. HPV can lead to cervical cancer. Photo by Ed Uthman/Flickr/Creative Commons

Women’s health doctors visit Petersburg every few months to give local patients the opportunity to see a specialist without having to leave town. As Angela Denning reports, one visiting doctor recommends yearly check-ups for all women 21 and older.

Family practitioners at Petersburg Medical Center are trained to do annual screenings for women’s health. But there are no OBGYN doctors who specialize in pregnancy and gynecology. So OBGYN’s from Ketchikan travel to Petersburg and Wrangell every two months.

Dr. Andrew Zink is one of those doctors. He’s an OBGYN with the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center. It’s a non-profit Catholic health system serving Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

Zink says sometimes they get referrals from the primary care providers in Petersburg and Wrangell.

“The providers in Petersburg are pretty comfortable taking care of some of the basic GYN issues but if there is something that exceeds what they are comfortable with, then they’ll send patients on to us,” Zink said.

Zink sees patients for annual well woman and GYN exams, cervical cancer screenings, issues with periods, and contraceptives counseling. But patients don’t have to have a referral. They can also schedule directly with PeaceHealth.

Zink says it’s important for women to be screened regularly.

“Cervical cancer used to be the number one killer of women before pap smears got started,” Zink said. “And that was just over 50 years ago. With good cervical cancer screening the rate of deaths from cervical cancer has gone way down.”

So how often should women get tested? Zink says it depends on who you ask. Women used to be told to get a pap smear every year. But now different organizations throughout the world give out different guidelines. For example, some say to get a mammogram every year, others say every few years.

Zink advises women to come in every year for an annual exam whether they need to be tested or not.

“I think it’s always a good idea to come in every year to check in with your doctor even if you’re healthy and don’t have any medications that you need refilled or anything else like that,” Zink said. “I always recommend that women come in for an annual exam every year to discuss what their risk factors are and also what the current guidelines are so we can have a discussion about what’s best for them.”

Women should start getting screened for cervical cancer through pap smears at age 21. Mammograms should start at age 40 unless women have other risk factors which would require them to start earlier. Also, women who are sexual active should be screened for STDs every year.

The next time PeaceHealth OBGYNs will be in Petersburg will be July 11-12.

To schedule an appointment with visiting PeaceHealth OBGYNs call their Ketchikan office at (907) 228-7688.