Cervical cancer strikes nearly 13,000 women in the United States each year. Cervical cancer is a preventable and treatable disease, but it continues to be one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in women. Early detection is critical to increasing cervical cancer survival rates, and there are a number of precautions that can be taken to reduce a woman’s risk of developing this disease. The key is to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, and to be proactive in accessing medical care and treatment. By understanding the risks and being proactive about preventive measures, women can maintain their health and reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that attacks the cervix, namely the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. Most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV infection causes the growth of abnormal cells that can become cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is treatable, but not curable, if left untreated. Cervical cancer affects women more often than men. It’s most common in women over the age of 35. It is estimated that around 12,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and it is responsible for more than 4,000 deaths. There are also cervical pre-cancers that can be detected and treated before they become cervical cancer.
Risk factors for cervical cancer
A number of risk factors have been identified as increasing the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. These include: Having a history of HPV infection or sexually transmitted diseases, especially multiple partners or partners who have multiple partners Having a weakened immune system Having a low income level Having limited access to health services Having many children and starting childbearing at a young age Having a diet low in fruit and vegetables Smoking Having multiple pregnancies that end in premature labor Having a mother with cervical cancer Women who have had a cervical biopsy showing cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells in the cervix), for which the treatment is to remove the cells
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
While some signs and symptoms of cervical cancer are common to many other health problems, it’s important to pay attention to them and call your doctor if you experience them. Symptoms of cervical cancer can include: Bleeding after intercourse, after menopause, or after a hysterectomy Abnormal bleeding after menopause and after a hysterectomy A discharge (fluid) from the vagina that has a bad odor, is different in color, or looks like cottage cheese Pain during intercourse Pain during intercourse urination or pelvic examination Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include: Swollen feet and ankles, due to fluid retention in the legs Weight gain and difficulty losing weight, due to fluid retention in the legs Ascites, fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity, due to fluid retention on the leg
Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
Regular screening with a Pap test is the best way to find cervical cancer early and dramatically increase your chances of surviving the disease. It is recommended that women between the ages of 21 and 65 be screened for cervical cancer every 3 years with a Pap test and an HPV test, regardless of their sexual history. After age 65, you can still get screened every 3 years, but you may want to talk to your doctor about the best testing options. After age 30, you should have a Pap test every 3 years. After age 21, you should have a Pap test and an HPV test every 5 years. After age 30, you should also have an HPV test every 5 years. You can also have a visual check by your healthcare provider. While it’s generally recommended that women with a high risk of cervical cancer get screened more often, it may not be feasible for everyone. In such cases, it is important to stay alert to any changes in your body or health that could indicate the development of cervical cancer. Watch for any unusual changes, including unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, or unusual pain during intercourse.
Cervical cancer prevention
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to avoid HPV. For most people, this can be accomplished by having regular Pap tests and HPV tests, along with good hygiene habits. If you have had HPV in the past, it is important to get regular cervical cancer screening. If you have never been tested, or have tested less than the recommended number, it is recommended that you get tested as soon as possible. There are vaccines that can prevent several types of HPV, including the type of HPV that causes cervical cancer. For women between the ages of 9 and 26, one of the most important things you can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get the HPV vaccination. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective, and is given as a series of 2 or 3 injections over 6 months. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both boys and girls, starting at 11 or 12 years of age. The HPV vaccine can also be used by people over the age of 26 who were not vaccinated when they were young.
Treatment for cervical cancer
When cervical cancer is found early, it can be treated with surgery to remove the cancer, along with part or all of the cervix. If cervical cancer is found later, it is treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Depending on the type and stage of the cancer, a woman’s outlook may be very good, or it may be bad. Early detection is very important to increase survival rates.