Cervical cancer: what you need to know

Woman Holding Teal Ribbon on Lower Abdomen

Each January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month calls attention to important facts about a type of cancer that is diagnosed in about 14,000 women in the United States annually and is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide.

Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix and usually develops slowly. Before cancer appears, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia, in which abnormal cells begin growing in the cervical tissue. If not destroyed or removed, the abnormal cells may become cancerous and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.

It’s important to be aware of these facts and risk factors:

  • Most women who get cervical cancer don’t have obvious risk factors, but risk does tend to increase with age.
  • Persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most significant risk factor for cervical cancer. Getting HPV is closely tied to sexual intercourse and skin-to-skin contact.
  • Having a weakened immune system can lower the body’s ability to fight an HPV infection.
  • Women who smoke or breathe in secondhand smoke have an increased risk.

It’s also important to be aware of these points about symptoms:

  • Early on, cervical cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms, making it hard to detect.
  • When symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer do appear, they may include heavier-than-normal periods, vaginal bleeding after sex or after menopause, and pelvic pain.
    These symptoms may be caused by many conditions other than cervical cancer, so it’s important to see your doctor right away.
  • Ignoring symptoms can delay diagnosis and make treatment less effective.

The HPV vaccine is the best protection against cervical cancer, but only 50% of women in Alabama have received it.  It is also vital to be screened with the Pap test or HPV testing.  Below are some important points about screening, which is the best way to detect cervical cancer and ensure timely treatment:

  • The HPV vaccination doesn’t protect against all types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer, so getting screened at regular intervals is still important.
  • Most women who’ve had cervical cancer were not screened. Even though screening has increased over the last 40 years, 20% of women are still not screened, and up to 40% of women do not follow up after their screening has an abnormal result.
  • To help ensure that screening is effective, get screened regularly, and follow up on any abnormal test results.
  • Click here to learn more about cervical cancer screening guidelines.

Any woman can be at risk for cervical cancer, but you can greatly reduce that risk by having regular screenings, getting vaccinated against HPV, and seeking medical advice if something doesn’t seem right with your body.

Click here to learn more from UAB Medicine about cervical cancer.

SOURCE: National Institutes of Health

By using this site you agree to our Privacy Policy.