Cervical Cancer: You could be affected

Where is the cervix? (photo credit from http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/)
Where is the cervix? (photo credit from http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/)

Cervical cancer happens when abnormal cells in the cervix (the passageway from the uterus to the vagina) goes out of control. The most common cause of the growth of this abnormal cells (dysplasia) is a type of Human papilloma virus or HPV, which is acquired by having sexual contact with an infected person. There are 46 types of  HPVs, but not all develop to cancer (some can cause genital warts). Cervical cancer is such a slow-developing cancer, you can have HPV and not know it. HPV infection hardly shows any symptoms, and generally, a woman’s body can combat the infection by itself.

Symptoms would only start to manifest when the growth  of abnormal cells has  led  to cancer.  Such symptoms are:

  • Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal (examples: during sex or when you put in a diaphragm)
  • Pain during sex.
  • Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood
  • Lower abdominal (pelvic) pain
  • Longer and heavier than usual menstrual bleeding
  • Bleeding in between menstrual periods

There’s still no conclusive evidence how the HPV can lead to cervical cancer but studies  have shown that women are high risk victims if :

  • they have  more than one sex partner, or  they have a sex partner who has more than one partner  and/or practice unsafe sex
  • they have used birth control pills for  more than 5 years
  • they smoke and are second hand smokers
  • they have  had many children
  • they  have weak immune system (caused by HIV  virus  or medications taken that suppresses  the immune system)
The initial step in diagnosing cervical cancer  is by undergoing Pap tests in which cells are scraped from the cervix for examination under a microscope. Pap tests can, not only find cervical cancer or find abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer, but can also detect other inflammation and  infections of the endocervix and endometrium.
Generally, Pap tests are not painful except when the woman has certain vaginal problems like cervical stenosis (narrow opening of the cervix) or vaginismus (a condition that causes the vaginal muscles to tense and will inhibit any type of penetration), or if the person performing the pap test is too harsh, or uses the wrong size speculum.
If abnormal cervical cell changes are found early, cervical cancer can be prevented by removing or killing the abnormal cells before they become cancer cells.  And if diagnosed, several tests would  have to be conducted to determine the stage of cancer what type of treatment  is necessary.  It is treatable and highly curable, specially when discovered  at an early stage. Most patients need surgery (like hysterectomy) only, though radiation or  sometimes chemotherapy are suggested if the cancer has spread.
Forty years ago, cervical cancer is the leading cause of death of women in the US, but the mortality has decreased significantly over the years. In 2008, according to the National Institute of  Health, 12,410 women in the United States were diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4,008 of them have died according to U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group.
What can you do to lower your risks? If you are age 26 or younger ( girls as young as 9 years old are recommended to be vaccinated), you can also have yourself vaccinated for protection from the virus. These vaccines are usually given in 3 shots in a period of  6 months and it’s best to  consult your obstetrician to know which brand would suit you. Vaccines though, still do not guarantee immunity. If you’re sexually active, you should still have Pap tests done to determine any abnormal cells growth.
If you’re sexually active but is not in the recommended vaccine age group, you can lower your risk by using condoms every time you have penetrative sex or by limiting yourself to one sexual partner. Try not to smoke as smoking doubles the risk of contracting such cancer.
What should you do to prevent this cancer from sneaking up on you? Being vaccinated nor having safe sex does not guarantee that you’ll be safe from cervical cancer.  The most effective way to beat it is to detect the growth of abnormal cells at an early stage, and this can  only be determined by going through Pap tests.  Most women (those who have given birth or sexually active) are advised  to have it done once every three years, but  if you have high risks, you might be advised  to have it done every year.
Talk to your doctor immediately and  set up an appointment.
Web sources:
http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/
http://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/default.htm
http://www.cancer.net/patient/Cancer+Types/Cervical+Cancer?sectionTitle=Diagnosis
http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/article.htm
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cervical-cancer-vaccine/WO00120/NSECTIONGROUP=2
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