Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow part of the uterus. It happens when the body’s cervical cells divide very fast and grow abnormally out of control. These extra cells form a tumor, which can then become malignant. Each year, about twelve-thousand women in the United States, get cervical cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Cervical cancer happens most often in women thirty-years or older, but all women are at risk.
Most all cases of cervical cancer are caused or triggered by a high-risk form of HPV, or the human papillomavirus. This is a virus that is passed from person to person through genital contact, including vaginal, oral and anal sex. If the human papillomavirus is not treated, it may grow into cervical cancer after a period of time. There are other factors that might increase your risk of developing this cancer and they are:
- Smoking any tobacco products.
- Taking birth control pills for longer than five years.
- Having given birth to three or more children.
- Having HIV or reduced immunity.
What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?
There may be no obvious signs or symptoms of cervical cancer. Advanced signs of this are bleeding or discharge from the vagina. While these symptoms could be caused by cervical cancer, they could also be caused by a number of other vaginal related conditions as well.
How can I verify if I have cervical cancer or not?
At the age of twenty-one, women should begin regular testing for cervical cancer. Pap smear tests, normally done with your primary care physician or gynecologist, can check for cells that have become cancerous or abnormal. If the test results show these changes, your doctor may suggest further testing to check for cancer. Those women between the ages of thirty and sixty-five can also be tested for HPV at the same time as the Pap smear is done.
What are the differences between the Pap smear and an HPV test?
These tests check for different types of things. A Pap smear test checks for abnormal cell growth in the cervix, which if left untreated, can result in cervical cancer. With this test, cells are scraped from the inside walls and examined under a microscope. These tests will be done as frequently as your medical situation requires, as deemed by your doctor.
The human papillomavirus or HPV test looks for the virus on the cells of the woman’s cervix. Because certain types of HPV have been linked to cervical cancer, early detection and treatment is key. For this test, your doctor will swab the cervix for HPV cells. If positive, treatment can then begin.
How often should I be tested for cervical cancer?
Your testing frequency will depend on your health history and age. Discuss with your doctor what your testing schedule may look like. Most testing guidelines follow these guidelines:
- You are between ages 21 and 29, you should get a Pap test every 3 years.
- You are between ages 30 and 64, you should get a Pap test and HPV test together every 5 years or a Pap test alone every 3 years.
- You are 65 or older, ask your doctor if you can stop having Pap tests.
If you are a patient that has had a hysterectomy, you may be required to follow these guidelines:
- You no longer have a cervix because you had a hysterectomy for reasons other than cancer, you do not need Pap tests.
- You had a hysterectomy because of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, you should have a yearly Pap test until you have three normal tests.
- You had your uterus removed but you still have a cervix (this type of hysterectomy is not common), you need regular Pap tests until you are 65 and have had three normal Pap tests in a row with no abnormal results in the last 10 years.
Are there any ways to prevent cervical cancer in the first place?
There are a few things you can do to lower your risk of developing cervical cancer, although there are no for sure methods to prevent getting it. No single step can protect you, but all of these things, when done together, can help you to avoid it. Those ways include:
-Get an HPV vaccine if you are twenty-six or younger. The HPV vaccine is recommended for girls who are eleven or twelve years old. But any girl or woman can get the HPV vaccine between 9 and 26 years. HPV vaccines are licensed, safe, and effective. You should always do your own research about vaccines and studies done, as new medications are now having recorded and updated records regarding dangers and side effects as well.
-Get regular Pap tests. Regular Pap tests help your doctor find and treat any changing cells before they turn into cancer. Women who have had the HPV vaccine still need to have regular Pap smears.
-Be monogamous. Being monogamous means that you only have sex with each other and no one else. The best way to prevent any sexually transmitted infections including the human papillomavirus is to not have vaginal, oral, or anal sex. But having sex with just one partner can lower your risk. That means that you only have sex with each other and no one else. And one step better, both of you can be tested for all sexually transmitted infections, and know you are both being very diligent about your sexual health.
-Use condoms. Research shows that condoms can lower your risk of getting cervical cancer when used correctly and every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Protect yourself with a condom every time you have vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you change the type of sex you are having, use a NEW condom! This means, if you are having anal sex, do NOT enter the vagina without changing your condom.
Do I need to get an HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer?
While these vaccines are designed to help prevent cervical cancer, they do not completely remove the risk for developing this cancer. The Gardasil 9 HPV vaccine has shown great protection against cervical cancer but has also been linked to numerous serious side effects and issues in many girls and boys ages nine through twenty-six. This vaccine is not currently recommended for pregnant women. If you are unsure if you should have this vaccination, check with your doctor about the benefits and risks for your specific medical situation.
If you think you have cervical cancer or any other vaginal issue causing your daily pain or discomfort, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or gynecologist for further testing to help ease your symptoms and help to reclaim your life.