About 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. If caught early, cervical cancer is highly treatable. This makes it especially important to have recommended screening and prevention visits.
Cancer of the cervix has been found in women ages 21 and over, but most commonly between the ages of 35 to 54. Learning how it can be prevented, diagnosed and treated can help you protect yourself, your sisters, friends and daughters. That’s why we’re here with expert advice from board-certified GYN Annette Williams, MD, to help you know what signs to watch for.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
HPV (human papillomavirus) causes nearly 100% of cervical cancer cases and is the most common sexually transmitted infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that most men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
“Thankfully, only a few of the more than 100 kinds of HPV actually cause cancer,” says Dr. Williams. “In many instances, the infections disappear on their own within two years.”
However, she explains that “women with HPV infections that don’t go away are at risk of developing cancer of the cervix and need to be followed closely.”
Are There Factors that Can Increase My Risk?
The following risk factors increase your odds of developing cervical cancer:
- Getting an HPV infection
- Having a personal history of chlamydia
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Immunosuppression (e.g., HIV infection)
- Limited access to health care or screening programs
- Women with HPV that are on oral contraception for long periods of time
What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Unfortunately, many cases are not diagnosed right away due to lack of clear symptoms.
“Women with early cervical cancers and precancers usually don’t have symptoms. Once the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue, women may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge from the vagina and pain during sex,” says Dr. Williams.
How is Cervical Cancer Detected and Treated?
With a Pap test, your health care provider can inspect your cervix for abnormal cell changes that may lead to cervical cancer. He or she may also conduct an HPV test to check if you’re infected with the virus, which can be done at the same time as the Pap test. Abnormal results from either screening may mean you need more testing, such as a biopsy to check if precancer or cancer is actually present.
If caught early, in its precancerous stage, the disease can often be treated successfully before the cells become cancerous.
Your treatment will depend on some variables unique to your situation. Dr. Williams explains, “Several factors help determine how best to treat cervical cancer, including the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and if you’d like to become pregnant someday. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy — alone or in combination — are used to treat cervical cancer.”
What Can I Do to Prevent Cervical Cancer?
Dr. Williams encourages you to talk to your doctor to get his or her recommendations based on your age, social history and other risk factors. Ask whether the HPV vaccine is right for you.
Also, make appointments for your annual well-woman exam and regular cancer screenings from your gynecologist. The American Cancer Society recently updated its screening recommendations.
“Women should begin screening for cervical cancer at age 21 and get tested for HPV every three to five years through age 65, depending on risk factors and result history,” recommends Dr. Williams.
How We’ll Keep You Safe at Your Appointment
It’s important to us that you feel safe under our care. That’s why we’ve put extra safety measures in place to keep you protected during routine and preventive care visits.
Some of these safety measures include:
- A universal mask policy requiring all patients and guests to wear a mask in our facilities
- An updated visitor policy that allows two visitors per patient
- Contactless registration via text at some locations
- Frequent cleaning and disinfection of facilities
- Reception areas with face shields
- Separate treatment areas for those with fevers or symptoms
- Social distancing in waiting rooms
By being proactive about prevention, you can successfully decrease your odds of developing cervical cancer or receive treatment in its earliest stages. At AdventHealth Zephyrhills, our Women's Health experts are here for you. To contact our Women's Health Navigator, call Call813-779-6471 or visit our website.