Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix - which is the lowest part of the uterus. A change in the cell structure of the cervix causes this cancer.
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop changes (mutations) in their DNA.
It isn't clear what causes cervical cancer, but it's certain that HPV plays a role. HPV is very common, and most people with the virus never develop cancer. This means other factors — such as your environment or your lifestyle choices — also determine whether you'll develop cervical cancer.
HPV or the Human Papillomavirus is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer, accounting for 85-90% of those affected. Other risk factors include early and increased sexual activity with multiple partners, smoking, a weak immune system, STDs, and long-term use of birth control pills, among others.
Unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, discomfort while urinating, loss of bladder control, painful intercourse, fatigue, pelvic pain, leg pain, and unexplained weight loss are some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for.
You can prevent cervical cancer by getting screened regularly to make sure your uterus is healthy. Practicing safe sex, avoiding intercourse with people who are infected with HPV, getting the HPV vaccine to protect yourself, etc are other steps you can take to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV vaccination is recommended for boys and girls who are 11 to 12 years old, but can be given starting at age 9. It is also recommended for everyone through age 26, if they are not vaccinated already. HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than age 26, but some adults who are 27 to 45 years old may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor.
Screening can detect pre-cancerous changes or early cancers before they can cause any signs and symptoms. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis. In fact, catching cervical cancer early makes it possible to have a full and successful recovery.
Women should start screening for cervical cancer once they're 21 and above.
There are two types of screening tests available - HPV Test and Pap Smear. HPV Test - Cell tissue removed from the cervix is tested for the HPV strain most commonly linked to cervical cancer.
Pap Smear - Similar to the HPV Test, cell tissue from the cervix is examined microscopically to detect any early, unusual changes. Further testing is done based on the results from the pap smear.
It is recommended that a woman get at least one HPV test and Pap Smear done in her lifetime. It is also suggested that women aged 21-65 get the HPV/Pap Test done every three years or sooner if any symptoms.
Many people confuse pelvic exams with Pap tests because they are usually done at the same time. During a pelvic exam, the health care provider feels the reproductive organs. The pelvic exam may help find diseases of the female organs, but it will not find cervical cancer at an early stage. To do that, a screening test is needed.
Some risk factors, like age, cannot be controlled, but others can. Some ways to lower the risk of cervical cancer or prevent it entirely are:
Get Vaccinated- The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer. It is recommended for both males and females.
In females, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It also protects against cancer of the anus, mouth and throat.
In males, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent cancer of the penis, anus, mouth and throat.
Get Screened regularly