Each year in the United States, 12,000 women get cervical cancer. Most of those women are over age 30, but even younger women can be affected. All women can be at risk for developing cervical cancer.
What causes cervical cancer?
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV); a virus passed from one person to another during sex. Some additional risk factors which can lead to cervical cancer are smoking, having HIV, using birth control pills for five or more years, and giving birth to three or more children.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages of cervical cancer, signs and symptoms may not be present. However, in advanced stages, abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding may appear. Routine screenings will rule out cervical cancer, or at least catch it in the early stages.
What can be done to help prevent cervical cancer?
Screening tests and a vaccine which can prevent some forms of HPV make cervical cancer highly preventable in most Western countries, and when found early, it is highly treatable.
The most important thing to help prevent cervical cancer is to have routine screening tests.
The two tests which can help prevent cervical cancer are the pap test, which looks for precancers (cervical cell changes which may become cancerous if not treated properly), and the HPF test, which looks for the virus which can cause cellular changes in the cervix (and detects more precancerous cells than the standard pap smear test). For women who are 30 or older, normal test results may preclude you from having to retest for up to three years. However, it is important to continue to schedule regular check-ups and pelvic exams.
Many healthcare professionals are recommending that females receive an HPV vaccine. The vaccine is intended to guard against some forms of HPV, though not all. Use your judgment about whether this option feels right to you. Even females who have received the HPV vaccine are encouraged to have routine screenings done to rule out any abnormalities in the cervix.
Additional measures which can be taken to help lower the risk of cervical cancer are 1) not smoking; 2) using condoms during sex (while the effectiveness of condom use in preventing HPV is unknown, they have been associated with lower rates of cervical cancer); and 3) limiting the number of sexual partners.
To read a fact sheet by the CDC on cervical cancer, click here.
If you (or a loved one) are overdue for screenings, please take the time today to schedule an appointment. It could save a life!