Cervical Cancer Awareness month is a reminder to women that there are steps they can take to prevent cervical cancer. Women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer with simple practices. Each year, more than 12,000 women in the U.S. get cervical cancer, and roughly 79 million Americans have HPV – the virus that is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer – but with the right self-care, women can prevent both from affecting their lives.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer is developed when cells in the body begin growing irregularly. With cervical cancer, those cells line the cervix, which has two different parts. Each of those parts has its own type of cells.
- The portion of the cervix nearest the body of the uterus is the endocervix. Glandular cells cover this part of the cervix.
- The portion of the cervix nearest the vagina is the exocervix. Squamous cells cover this part of the cervix.
The two cell types merge in an area of the body called the transformation zone, or t-zone. The majority of cervical cancers begin with the cells in the t-zone, but it’s not an immediate change from cell to cancer. Cells in the cervix progressively develop pre-cancerous changes that evolve into cancer.
How To Prevent Cervical Cancer
Cells in the t-zone that have been determined “pre-cancerous” will be referred to in one of three ways by a doctor: cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), and dysplasia. The way to detect any of the three is through a pap test, which allows the doctor to begin treating the pre-cancerous cells before the disease develops.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is through regular pap tests and HPV screenings. A swab during a pap test allows the doctor to collect cervical cells. Those cells will be evaluated for pre-cancer or invasive cancer.
An HPV test can also be conducted on the cells to see if a woman needs to be treated for HPV.
Tips for prevention:
- Get the HPV vaccine
- Test for HPV
- Stop smoking
- Use condoms
- Schedule regular pap smears
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
HPV is present in 99 percent of cervical cancers. More than 100 types of HPV exist and most are “low-risk,” or unlikely to cause cancer. The two HPV strands responsible for 70 percent of cancer diagnoses are HPV-16 and HPV-18. It may sound alarming that some 80 percent of women will be infected with HPV by age 50, but the majority of HPV cases – 90 percent – clear up on their own within two years.
Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer
Pre-cancer cells and early stages of cervical cancer often have no symptoms at all, making regular pap tests vital to continued good health. Advanced stages of cervical cancer may cause irregular vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, or vaginal discharge. Other symptoms include pain during urination and pelvic pain. It’s important to note than many of these symptoms may also be signs of other health issues, so it’s necessary to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
When women take the time to take care of themselves – getting regular pap tests, not smoking, and having protected sex – the likelihood of developing cervical cancer is greatly reduced. Call our office today to set up your annual checkup!