What if you knew that 93% of cervical cancer could be prevented? Would you be interested in learning what you could do to nearly eliminate your chances of a specific cancer diagnosis? Is it worth the trade-off of reading a few paragraphs over the next five minutes to avoid hearing the dreaded “C” word? That’s actually possible.
Despite the overall cervical cancer rates decreasing in the U.S., incidence remains high in Hispanic/Latino, Black, and Asian women. In contrast, cervical cancer is a major health problem for women across the globe. It is the fourth most common cancer worldwide, with 85 % occurring in developing countries and remains the leading cause of cancer death in women, according to the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.
Put simply, cancer develops when good cells start behaving badly. Hence, cervical cancer occurs when cells on the surface of the cervix change and grow out of control. In case you’re trying to imagine where exactly the cervix is in a woman’s body, it’s the low, narrow part of the uterus. The uterus, as most recognize, holds the fetus during pregnancy. The cervix is like the narrow bridge between the uterus and the vagina. It connects the uterus to the vagina, and forms the birth canal.
Cervical cancer is preventable as it can often be caught “early,” when the cells are abnormal or even with more change and identified as precancerous. This is typically found through a regular pelvic exam and Pap test. With regular screening, many cervical changes can be found before they turn cancerous. According to ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 44 but can occur at any age. It is rare for a woman to be diagnosed before age 20, and unusual (~15%) to be diagnosed after age 65.
Factors that increase your risk for developing cervical cancer include, HPV (Human papillomavirus) infection, smoking, chronic immune suppression, genital herpes, age, lack of access to screening, and exposure to DES (diethylstilbestrol). Early warning signs of concern can be quite subtle, and lead to the disease being diagnosed in later stages.
Early Signs and Symptoms to Report & Check-out
- Unusual bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Uncomfortable Sex
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Unusual Discharge
- Pain/Stinging/Discomfort during urination
- Unintentional Weight loss and Fatigue
- Leg pain and/or lower back pain
WHAT TO DO:
- Stop smoking. Smoking increases your risk significantly. In fact, smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer versus nonsmokers.
- Get a pelvic examination regularly by your doctor/nurse. The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with HPV (Human papillomavirus). HPV is common. Many people are infected with HPV through sexual activity without realizing it. Not all types (or strains) of HPV are linked to cervical cancer. Starting to have sex at an earlier age or having multiple sexual partners increases your risk of being infected with HPV, which increases your risk of cervical cancer.
- Look for early signs and symptoms. Report any sign of concern to your doctor/nurse immediately so you can be evaluated further.
ASCO Cervical Cancer Guide. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines Version 1.2020. Cervical Cancer. https://www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/cervical.pdf