January is designated as Cervical Health Awareness Month. It is expected that around 12,000 women will be diagnosed with this preventable disease every year. Because this is a slow-growing cancer, you may not even exhibit any symptoms until the cancer has become more advanced. When detected early, cervical cancer can be effectively treated. That is why it is important to keep up with cervical screening recommendations.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cancer of the cervix is considered to be a sexually transmitted disease. In about 99% of cases, this type of cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus. This virus might very well be the most transmitted sexually contracted infection in the United States. It is believed that approximately 80% of women will have contracted this virus at some point during their lifetimes, with 40% having two or more strains.
Although there are more than 100 types of HPV, only a few strains are considered to be high risk with the potential to develop into cancer. Most cases of human papillomavirus resolve by themselves, with the infection clearing within two years. If the infection does not clear within that time, the individual is said to have a persistent infection. It is those women who suffer with persistent infection of human papillomavirus that are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Certain types of HPV can cause normal cells to change to those that are abnormal. Over the course of time, years or even decades, the abnormal cells may eventually develop into cancer of the cervix in some individuals. Because the process is typically a slow one, there may be no symptoms during the time cells are in the precancerous and early cancer stages.
If the cancer has become more advanced, changes in the cervix may cause symptoms in nearby areas. Because these symptoms may also be signs of other health problems, it is important to come in for an examination and screening to effectively diagnose the issue. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Painful intercourse
- Vaginal discharge
- Urination difficulties
The Importance of Awareness
It is important to understand that cancer of the cervix may be prevented. Because this type of cancer takes a long time to develop, early detection is key to reduce the risk of developing this potentially deadly cancer that kills more than 4,000 women every year. Regular screening of the cervix can detect any abnormal changes in the cells before they actually turn cancerous, allowing for prompt treatment to stop the formation of cancer in its tracks.
What You Can Do to Get Screened
The Papanicolaou test, more commonly known as the Pap smear or Pap test, is used to take a sample of cells from the cervix for testing. This test can detect the presence of cells that are cancerous, precancerous, or abnormal for any reason. Because there is a small chance for a false negative or positive from this test, it is often used in connection with a test for human papillomavirus. Co-testing gives us a clearer picture of what might be going on, especially if any abnormalities are seen in the Pap test.
Depending on your risk factors and the results of your Pap and HP virus tests, we’ll be able to determine when your next screening should occur and how frequently you should receive them.
Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?
Vaccines are currently available to provide protection against the high risk types of HP virus as well as low risk types that can lead to other genital problems, such as warts. Vaccines are recommended for females and males, as males may also be infected with human papillomavirus. This can result in the development of genital warts or the ability to pass the virus on to other partners through sexual contact. Getting vaccinated early increases the resistance to the virus. Preteens who get vaccinated may only need to have two vaccines while teens aged 16 to young adults aged 26 will require three doses of the vaccine.
Vaccinations will only protect against some strains of this virus, so you may still be able to contract other types that might lead to the development of disease. Also, these vaccines are meant for prevention. They are not effective to treat any human papillomavirus strain that you may already have.
Take the Next Steps for Cervical Health
If you have never had a Pap test or it has been a while since you have had one, schedule an appointment with us to come in and get the necessary cervical screening now. Our skilled specialists understand the gynecological needs and health concerns that specifically affect women. Be sure to let your female friends and family members know about the importance of regular screening in the prevention and early treatment of cervical cancer.
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