Did you know that in your cervix — the lower part of the uterus connected to your vagina— there are cells there that can become cancerous over time?
A sexually transmitted infection called the human papillomavirus (HPV) is to blame. HPV is common and our immune system usually prevents the virus from doing any harm, but with a small percentage of people, the virus leads to cervical cells becoming cancerous.
It might sound worrying but this can be totally avoided if an HPV vaccine is given early to young women and regular screenings with a gynecologist are scheduled.
Are there different types of cervical cancers?
There are two main types and they can be detected by studying the cells under a microscope. They're both treated the same way.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Thin, flat cells lining the bottom of the cervix
90 percent of detected cervical cancers fall in this category
Appears in the glandular cells lining the upper cervix
This is a less common type of cervical cancer
What are some symptoms of cervical cancer?
Bleeding between periods
Pain during intercourse
Blood spotting after menopause
Lower back pain
Heavier, longer menstrual bleeding
Bleeding after intercourse
Unusually frequent and heavy vaginal discharge
Weight loss and appetite loss
At what age are most cervical cancers detected?
Which countries have the highest numbers of cervical cancer cases?
Low-income countries where screenings and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases is low have the highest cases of cervical cancer. Countries like Eswatini, Malawi and Zambia have the highest cervical cancer cases and deaths. Ethnicity also plays a large role, as Black and Hispanic women have shown higher incidences of developing cervical cancer.
What are key risk factors for developing cervical cancer?
What precautions can I take for cervical cancer?
Get the HPV vaccine
The HPV vaccine is usually given right after puberty, usually at ages 11 or 12. The vaccine can reduce not just cervical cancer but also other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor about the vaccine if you haven't had it yey.
Regular pap tests
Pap tests administered by a health professional, usually a gynecologist, play a big role in detecting any precancerous cervix conditions. These tests should start by age 21 and should be regularly repeated every few years.
Safe sex using barrier methods
By using a condom when you have sex & limiting sexual partners, you make it less likely to contract HPV that could develop into cervical cancer.
Smokers have an increased risk for cervical cancer. How long one has been smoking as well as frequency of smoking plays an additional role.
Click here for more information on cervical cancer prevention.
You're turning 20. How often should you take a pap test?
Is there a treatment for cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is treatable! However, doctors and patients can never predict how it will progress. Usually, it develops slowly, but in some cases, it has shown to spread quickly.
For early and late stage cervical cancers, surgery, chemo, and radiation is used. The survival rate for cervical cancer for all women is 66% but this greatly varies by age, race, and ethnicity.
The "Elimination" Strategy
The World Health Organization (WHO) identified a 90:70:90 approach that will prevent about 74 million new cases and 62 million deaths in low and middle-income countries.
90% of girls are fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by the age of 15
70% of women are screened with a high-performance test by 35 and 45 years of age
90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment
What can I do to protect myself and others from cervical cancer?
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