Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects a woman's cervix. The cervix plays a vital role in the female reproductive system, connecting the upper vagina to the uterus. During childbirth, the cervix dilates to allow the passage of a baby from the uterus to the vagina.
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors and CausesThe primary risk factor for developing cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact. The virus can cause changes in cervical cells that could develop into cervical cancer if left undetected, unmonitored, or untreated.
Cervical Cancer SymptomsIn the early stages of cervical cancer, there are rarely any noticeable symptoms. Having a regular Pap smear can detect any early abnormal cervical changes that could lead to cervical cancer if left unmonitored or untreated. A regular Pap smear is key to early detection of early cervical changes and cervical cancer. As cervical cancer progresses, symptoms begin to present themselves. Symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding, including post-coital bleeding
- pain during sexual intercourse,
- pelvic pain
- heavy vaginal discharge
Diagnosing Cervical CancerThe first step in diagnosing cervical cancer is through the screening test known as the Pap smear, a simple test that allows cervical cells to be examined under a microscope. If suspicious cells are found, then a colposcopy is performed. A colposcopy allows a doctor to view the cervix more closely. During the colpsocopy, a cervical biopsy may be done. If the biopsy finds cancerous cells, additional tests will be done to determine the cervical cancer stage. Certain tests help to determine cervical cancer progression which include pelvic exams, imaging tests, and blood tests.
Treatment of Cervical CancerCervical cancer can be treated in several ways. The type of cervical cancer and the stage of the disease greatly affect what treatment methods are recommended. Surgery is one method of cervical cancer treatment, such as a hysterectomy. Other forms of treatment include chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Often treatment includes a combination of methods. Recommended treatment methods vary among patients, based on general health, type of cervical cancer, and the stage that the cancer is in.
Preventing Cervical Cervical CancerCervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Small lifestyle adjustments combined with medical care go a long way in preventing cervical cancer. Women can reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer by:
- Getting a regular Pap smear. The Pap smear is a simple test that can detect abnormal cervical changes long before they become cancerous. The key to the effectiveness of the Pap smear is having it done regularly.
- Getting the HPV vaccine Gardasil. Gardasil is an FDA approved vaccine that not only protects against high risk strains of HPV, but also against two strains known to cause genital warts. Gardasil is available to young women ages 9-27. It is given in a series of three shots over a course of six months.
- Not smoking. Studies show that smoking can actually speed up the process of cervical damage caused by HPV. Quitting smoking now greatly reduces your risk of several types of cancer, including cervical cancer.
Limiting how many sexual partners you have. Having multiple sexual
partners increases your risk of being infected with HPV, thus increasing
your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Practicing safe sex. You can reduce your risk of being infected with HPV by using a condom during sexual intercourse. A condom won't provide 100% protection against HPV, but studies show that condoms do provide some protection against the virus. You are much better off with your partner wearing a condom than not wearing one for many reasons.