Cervical Cancer: What you need to know
What is Cervical Cancer?
Almost all cervical cancers are linked to a common infection in the cervix called human papillomavirus (HPV). Of the more than 100 types of HPV, many are benign, but some are linked to cancer of the cervix.
Who is Most at Risk?
Your risk for cervical cancer depends on your sexual history, your immune system, your health, and your lifestyle. Those at highest risk of developing cancer of the cervix include:
- Women with certain strains of HPV
- Women over age 30. While it can occur in younger women, cervical cancer rarely occurs in women younger than age 21
- Women who smoke are about twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop cervical cancer
- Women who have problems with their immune system
- Women with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
- Women who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
- Women with a previous precancer of the cervix
How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?
- Get regular Pap tests—they can detect cervical changes before they become cancerous
- Girls and women ages 9 – 26 should get the HPV vaccine. ACO G recommends the HPV vaccine be routinely given to all girls ages 11 – 12; however, it can be given to girls as young as 9 Be monogamous and practice safe sex
- Don't smoke
What are the Warning Signs of Possible Cervical Cancer?
Precancer and cancer of the cervix often have no symptoms; however, some of the warning signs include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Spotting or discharge
- Bleeding after sex
- Signs of advanced cancer include pain, problems urinating, and swollen legs
How is Cervical Cancer Treated?
- Precancers can be removed with a LEEP biopsy (loop electrosurgical excision procedure), which uses an electrified loop of wire to remove cells, cryotherapy (which freezes the cells), laser therapy (which vaporizes the cells), or a cone biopsy (in which a cone shaped wedge is removed from the cervix)
- Cervical cancer may require a radical hysterectomy and radiation with or without chemotherapy. When found early, the cure rate is more than 90%
What Should I Know about Screening for Cervical Cancer?
- The Pap test is the best way to detect abnormal cells on the cervix. Sexually active women between the ages of 21 and 29, and those younger than 21 who have been sexually active for at least three years, need an annual Pap test
- ACO G recommends that low-risk women ages 30 – 64 who have had three or more normal annual Pap tests can be screened every 2 – 3 years
- For women ages 30 – 64, other options include combining a Pap test with an HPV test to see if you have a high risk type of the virus, or continuing to be tested annually
- Low-risk women ages 65 and older, who have had three or more normal Pap tests within the last 10 years, can discontinue Pap testing unless they have risk factors for sexually transmitted diseases
- Slightly abnormal Pap results may be followed up by an HPV test, a repeat Pap test, or colposcopy, which uses a magnifying instrument to view and biopsy abnormal cells.
- Pap tests that are more abnormal require colposcopy
- Many women who have had a hysterectomy may be able to discontinue routine Pap testing. Pap testing can be discontinued if the surgery removed the cervix and was done for reasons other than cancer or precancerous changes. Women who had precancerous changes before their hysterectomy should be screened annually until they have three consecutive, normal Pap tests; then they can discontinue routine screening
To learn more about Cervical Cancer call St.Vincent Cancer Care at (317) 338-4YOU.
Cervical Cancer Information was taken from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
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