Confused about Pap Tests?

Preventive Care for Birmingham Women

A few generations ago, cervical cancer took the lives of more women than any other cancer. Today, it is a largely preventable disease. Beginning in the 1940s, the Pap test became available to women. A swab is used to collect cells from the cervix. The sample is then examined to look for abnormal cells, either cancer or pre-cancerous cells.

By the 1990s, research determined that human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer. This discovery opened the door to new preventive opportunities. The HPV vaccine, given to preteens and young adults, can provide strong protection against cervical cancer. We now have a test for the presence of the HPV virus from a swab of the cervix. It can be performed alone or at the same time as a Pap test. The HPV test tries to find the virus that could cause cancer or pre-cancer. It does not look at whether cervical cells are normal or abnormal.

Why then do 12,000 women in the U.S. still develop cervical cancer each year? First, for a number of reasons, many women do not get regular preventive healthcare services. Second, the number of young women getting the complete series of HPV vaccines is much lower than we would like—in Alabama only about 58%. Finally, neither the vaccine nor the Pap and HPV tests provide 100% protection. Read more

Family Risk for Breast or Ovarian Cancer

Although breast cancer risk increases throughout a woman’s life, younger women can also face breast cancer. Experts do not recommend routine screening for breast cancer (mammogram) before age 40. But some women–those with hereditary risk factors for breast or ovarian cancer–may be advised differently.

We want to help our patients recognize risk factors in their family’s medical history. Your annual well-woman exam is an ideal time to review your family history. If your updated family history suggests higher risk, your Ob-Gyn physician may recommend genetic testing for abnormal changes in certain genes (BRCA 1 and BRCA 2). Your doctor will also recommend the breast cancer screening schedule that is appropriate for your age and any genetic risk factors.

At Sparks & Favor, we are pleased to offer Birmingham women up-to-date 3D technology for breast cancer screening. We want to tailor our recommendations to your individual situation. Please keep us informed of changes in your personal or family medical history.

Click on the image (left) to view the entire infographic on breast cancer risk in younger women from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infographic explains how BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations affect a young woman’s risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer.

 

Am I Getting Enough Protein?

As we juggle work and family responsibilities, most of us try to keep an eye on the scale and on good nutrition in general.  But making good nutritional choices gets more confusing with each new diet fad that crosses the Internet. Keto? Paleo? Whole 30? South Beach? Atkins? …Really?

Most of these plans restrict carbohydrates, some more severely than others. The “allowed foods” list is weighted toward high-protein choices. Low-carb plans appeal to the common belief that most of us need more protein. Unfortunately, many people will substitute fats or high-fat protein sources for the carbs they miss.

Even if you can avoid that pitfall, do you really benefit from more protein? Do high-protein diets—with or without weight loss—give you more energy, improve overall health, or contribute to a longer life? Read more

Our Mammography Technologist Discusses 3D Mammography

 

Mammograms save lives!

Most of our patients (beyond that “certain age”), have met Mrs. Charlene Aitken, Sparks & Favor’s Mammography Certified Radiologic Technologist. Mrs. Aitken’s professional experience spans three decades. This month, we celebrate her 20th year promoting breast health for our patients!

To kick-off two important events—Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the launch of our new 3D mammography system—we have asked Mrs. Aiken to answer a few questions.

Q: What drew you to specializing in mammography?

A:  I am passionate about mammography because it’s such a powerful tool. I tell my patients that this simple, 10-minute exam saves so many lives! I have also been personally affected, having supported my mother through her struggle with breast cancer.

Q:  What are the most important changes in breast mammography you’ve seen over the course of your career?

A: Technology has advanced so much, but I think the most important changes are actually in quality control. The Mammography Quality Standards Act is only 26 years old. It requires that facilities are certified for safety and reliability. Updates to the law also ensure that women receive their mammogram results promptly in language they can understand!

Q:  You mentioned new technology. Can you describe some of the changes?

A: The change from x-ray film to digital technology (the x-ray is recorded as a computer file) has enabled the radiologist to enlarge or enhance the breast image for a clearer look. Digital mammograms are also easier to transmit to the radiologist for initial reading or second opinion, and easier to store in the patient record. The newest technology is 3D mammography, and this has been another major step forward. Read more

An Announcement from Dr. Sparks

Dr. Sparks welcomes this beautiful girl! Her mom was his last delivery to one of his own patients.

As many of Dr. Sparks’ patients have already heard, beginning October 1st, he will be limiting his practice to gynecology. He looks forward to directing his full-time focus to his patients’ gynecologic care needs and to his long-time interests in minimally-invasive gynecologic surgery, screening and risk-reducing strategies for women’s cancer risk, the menopause transition, and osteoporosis. In 2009, Dr. Sparks was one of the early Birmingham gynecologists to begin using the minimally-invasive procedure known as “robotic surgery.” He is still amazed at how his patients benefit from this technology. More women are able to opt for surgery to deal with disabling gynecologic problems, knowing they will face very little “down time” from their daily lives. He reminds women that it is now a rare situation that will require a traditional abdominal hysterectomy.

Dr. Sparks has also maintained an active interest in the special issues affecting women during the menopausal transition, including perimenopause, premature menopause, menopause symptoms, and hormone replacement therapy. He has recently achieved the North American Menopause Society’s Certified Menopause Practitioner (NMCP) designation. (currently the only NCMP gynecologist in greater-Birmingham.) He looks forward to increasing his availability to patients to discuss bothersome symptoms of menopause and low-risk options for improving their quality of life.

For his GYN patients who may require OB care in the future, Dr. Sparks says it will be a pleasure to refer their OB care to partners whom he respects so highly. He will also enjoy sharing their good news and continuing their gynecologic care after delivery. Read more

For Our Expectant Families–Birth Planning 101 and 102

We proudly announce a new service at Sparks & Favor PC to help you sort through the overload of pregnancy and childbirth information. Whether you’re pregnant for the first time or just want a refresher, we are now offering Birth Planning 101 and 102.

What is Birth Planning 101 and 102?

Our program is designed to help you navigate the maze of choices about your pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Its focus is to provide you with the information you need to maintain a healthy pregnancy and help you prepare for a delivery that will be a cherished, family-centered memory. The program consists of:

  • A one-on-one appointment with your physician’s RN early during your first trimester. We will give you an overview of your pregnancy care at Sparks & Favor, discuss recommendations for a healthy start to your pregnancy, and answer your questions. We will also suggest some topics that you will want to consider as your pregnancy progresses.
  • A follow-up appointment later in your second trimester (usually at your 28-week appointment) will give you an opportunity to discuss your concerns in more detail and share your preferences with us. At this appointment, we will know a lot more about the progress of your pregnancy. We will be able to help you tailor your birth plan to your individual medical needs and wishes. What support persons—partner, another family member, or other individual–will share your childbirth experience? What comfort measures do you think you will choose? Do you plan to breastfeed (and more)? You do not need to have answers yet, but your thoughts will shape your eventual birth plan.

See our Birth Planning resources page!

Read more

Dr. Favor Discusses Recent Outbreak of Whooping Cough in Greater Birmingham

Blakely looks very pleased to meet her teacher Mrs. Debbie Ugolini. Blakely’s mom, a wonderful member of our Sparks & Favor team, generously shared this adorable pic!

Especially for new and expectant parents

August always a busy time for families rushing to purchase school supplies, arrange bus and carpool schedules, and perhaps slip in one more family outing before settling into school-year routines!  Not coincidentally, August is also National Immunization Awareness Month—a reminder that updating Alabama blue immunization forms is one of the items on most back-to-school checklists.

This week, a press release from the Alabama Department of Public Health shows us again how important immunizations are to our families’ health. From its announcement:

“The Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) Immunization Division is currently investigating a pertussis outbreak in Shelby and Jefferson counties. Currently, ADPH has identified 9 children with positive pertussis laboratory results and 22 people with pertussis-like illness (PLI) linked to people who tested positive.” Read more

Ask Your Ob-Gyn—Dr. Sarah Whitehead Answers Questions about Endometriosis

Dr. Sarah WhiteheadWhat is endometriosis?

Endometriosis in a condition in which tissue normally found in the lining of the uterus begins to grow in other areas of a woman’s abdomen. It is normal tissue, not a cancer, but it can still cause great discomfort and other medical problems. Endometriosis is very common, affecting about one in ten women.

The misplaced endometrial tissue can become attached to the ovaries, fallopian tubes, the outside surface of the uterus, the bladder, bowel, or other places in the pelvis.

What problems does endometriosis cause?

Read more

Shingles and the New Vaccine–Preventive Health Info from Your Ob/Gyn

The shingles vaccine has been well-accepted by older adults—most likely because so many people are familiar with the misery that the itching, burning rash causes. Now there is a new vaccine against shingles, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending it for most healthy adults over age 50.  As Ob/Gyns we also focus on women’s preventive health. We welcome your questions about this and other preventive health issues. Here is a list of common FAQs about protecting yourself against shingles.

What is Shingles (herpes zoster)?

Shingles is a painful rash that most often appears on one side of the face or body. It is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox (varicella zoster). Only people who have had chicken pox can develop shingles, but that is 99% of the population.  You have probably had chicken pox whether you remember it or not. The chicken pox virus remains inactive in the body. Sometime later, it can re-activate to cause shingles.

Besides being very painful, shingles can cause some serious complications. The most common complication is post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN). People with PHN will have severe pain in the area of the shingles outbreak that lasts for weeks, or even months or years, after the rash has disappeared. About 10 to 13% of people who have shingles will develop PHN. Read more

From Dr. Sarah Whitehead—Optimizing Your Chance of Becoming Pregnant, an Obstetrician’s View

You’ve decided you’re ready to start a family. In fact, you’ve decided that the next few months would be “ideal” to begin a pregnancy. But a month goes by, and then another, and no little + sign appears on the magic stick. You’re not exactly worried, nor should you be. Statistics say that around 20% of couples who will eventually have a spontaneous pregnancy do not conceive during the first six months that they attempt getting pregnant.  Obstetricians define infertility as the inability to achieve a successful pregnancy after twelve months of regular, unprotected intercourse. So, during this time we usually reassure young couples that most likely everything is normal. For older couples (beyond about 35) we may suggest some testing after about 6 months.

Still, you are just a little disappointed. Now and then, one of my patients in this situation will ask what she can do to “increase the chances” of becoming pregnant. It’s a good question. I am delighted to help you sort through the facts and myths that you’ve found on the Internet. Read more