The cervix is the area of a female’s body between her vagina
and uterus. When cells in the cervix become abnormal and multiply rapidly,
cervical cancer can develop. Cervical cancer can be life-threatening if it goes
undetected or untreated.
A specific type of virus called human papilloma virus (HPV) causes
almost all of the cases of cervical cancer. Your doctor can screen for this
virus and precancerous cells, and they can suggest treatments that can prevent
cancer from occurring.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms until it’s in
advanced stages. Also, women may think the symptoms are related to something
else, such as their menstrual cycle, a yeast infection, or a urinary tract
Examples of symptoms associated with cervical cancer
- abnormal bleeding, such as bleeding between
menstrual periods, after sex, after a pelvic exam, or after menopause
- discharge that’s unusual in amount, color,
consistency, or smell
- having to go to urinate more frequently
- pelvic pain
- painful urination
All women should have cervical screen according to national
guidelines. Also, if you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor about
screening for cervical cancer.
How do you get cervical cancer?
causes a majority of cervical cancers. Certain strains of the virus cause normal
cervical cells to become abnormal. Over the course of years or even decades,
these calls can become cancerous.
Women who were exposed to a
medicine called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while their mothers were pregnant are
also at risk for cervical cancer. This medicine is a type of estrogen that
doctors thought could prevent miscarriage. However, DES has been linked with
causing abnormal cells in the cervix and vagina. The medication has been off
the market in the United States since the 1970s. You can talk to your mother to
determine if she may have taken the medication. A test to determine if you were
exposed to DES isn’t available.
What is HPV?
HPV is associated with causing cervical cancers as well as
genital warts in most instances. HPV is sexually transmitted. You can get it
from anal, oral, or vaginal sex. According to the National
Cervical Cancer Coalition, HPV causes 99 percent of cervical
More than 200 types of HPV exist, and not all of them cause
cervical cancer. Doctors categorize HPV into two types.
According to the National
Cancer Institute, HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90 percent of all genital
warts. These HPV types aren’t associated with causing cancer and are considered
low risk. HPV types 16 and 18 are high-risk types. They cause 70 percent of
cervical cancers. These HPV types can also cause:
- anal cancer
- oropharyngeal cancer
- vaginal cancer
- vulvar cancer
HPV infections are the most commonly sexually transmitted
infections in the United States. Most women with HPV will not get cervical
cancer. The virus often resolves on its own in two years or less without any
treatments. However, some people may continue to be infected long after
HPV and early cervical cancer don’t always cause symptoms.
However, your doctor will check for the presence of abnormal cells in the
cervix through a Pap smear at your annual exam. You can also be tested for the
HPV virus during this exam.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Doctors can diagnose the presence of abnormal and
potentially cancerous cells through a Pap test. This involves swabbing your
cervix with a device that’s similar to a cotton swab. They send this swab to a
laboratory to be examined for precancerous or cancerous cells.
The American Cancer Society
recommends women begin cervical cancer screenings by getting a Pap test at age
21. You should get this test at least every three years until you turn 30. When
you’re 30, you should continue to have a Pap test every three years and begin HPV
testing. You should get HPV testing every five years if the first test is
The HPV test is very similar to a Pap test. Your doctor
collects cells from the cervix in the same manner. Laboratory workers will test
the cells for the presence of genetic material associated with HPV. This
includes DNA or RNA of known HPV strands.
Even if you’ve had the vaccine to protect against HPV, you
should still get cervical cancer screenings as the American Cancer Society
Women should talk to their doctors about the timing of Pap
tests. Circumstances exist when you should be tested more often. These include
women who have a suppressed immune system due to:
- long-term steroid use
- an organ transplant
Your doctor may also recommend that you get a screening more
frequently based on your circumstances.
What is the outlook?
When it’s detected in its earliest stages, cervical cancer is
considered one of the most treatable cancer types. According to the American
Cancer Society, deaths from cervical cancer have declined by 50 percent in
the past 30 years. Getting regular Pap tests to check for precancerous cells is
thought to be one of the most important and effective means of prevention.
Getting vaccinated against HPV and undergoing regular Pap test screenings can
help you reduce your risk for cervical cancer.
How can you prevent HPV and cervical cancer?
You can lessen your cervical cancer risk by reducing the
likelihood you’ll get HPV. If you’re between the ages of 9 and 26, you can get
the HPV vaccine. While there are different kinds of HPV vaccines on the market,
they all protect against types 16 and 18, which are the two most cancer-causing
types. Some vaccines provide immunity against even more HPV types. It’s ideal
to get this vaccine before becoming sexually active.
Other ways to help prevent cervical cancer include the
- Get routine Pap tests. Talk to your doctor about
the recommended frequency of Pap tests based on your age and medical
- Practice safe sex. Have your partner wear a
condom each time you have sex.
- Don’t smoke. Women who smoke are at greater risk
for cervical cancers.