Since it’s January, which is the official month to shine a light on one of the most common types of cancers, I’ve decided to partake in spreading awareness about cervical cancer. While most of the information here particularly applies to women, men are encouraged to stick around and learn one or two things. So let’s get started:
What’s cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. It is one of the most common types of cancer in women worldwide, but it’s also one of the most preventable. Today, medical science has ways to detect it earlier. These tests focus on detecting certain strains of HPV.
The leading cause of virtually all cervical cancers is human papillomaviruses (HPVs), and there are over a hundred different types of these viruses. But some of them pose a higher risk than others. Only two types of strain are responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancer cases, that’s HPV-16 and HPV-18. These strains are unique because they produce some proteins that interfere with cell function. And as you may know, cancerous cells are dangerous because they multiply rapidly and grow irregularly. HPV is not as uncommon as you might think. It’s sexually transmitted, but in most women, HPV infections resolve their own and do not cause cancer.
They are a few factors that can increase the risk of contracting persistent HPV infections, like:
A weakened immune system
Exposure to other STDs like Chlamydia
Multiple sexual partners
Long term use of birth control
Having many children
What are the symptoms?
The early stages of cervical cancer generally produce no symptoms. By the time some women notice unusual symptoms in their bodies, they’ve already progressed to the more advanced stages, which are more challenging to treat. They may start to notice symptoms such as:
Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding (after intercourse, between periods, and after menopause)
Pelvic pain (during intercourse)
Unusual vaginal discharge
How do you prevent cervical cancer?
The truth is early discovery is the key to checking cervical cancer. Several hospitals offer screenings that include pap smears, and sometimes they also provide HPV DNA tests. The regular pap tests, samples of cells are scraped from the cervix and examined for pre-cancerous changes. They check the cells to see if their structure has changed. The modifications can range from mild to severe when the tests are abnormal. Also, doctors can request additional tests to confirm the presence of cervical cancer.
But not every abnormality is a cause for worry. In most cases, mild changes resolve on their own. Typically, patients have to repeat the pap smear in six months or a year to monitor the condition. It’s only in a few cases abnormal cells develop into cancer. But that usually requires many years, which allows plenty of time for treatment.
Plus, did you know there’s an HPV vaccine? Yes, you can get vaccinated to keep those icky viruses that can also cause other types of cancer away. It’s ideal for girls between age 11 and 12, but women up to 26 years can get a catch-up vaccine.
Also, remember that HPV is sexually transmitted, so make a habit of engaging in safe sex. You’ll save yourself a whole lot of trouble from other STDs too.
When should I get a pap test?
Medical professionals recommend that women between the ages of 21 and 65 get a pap smear every three years, or five years when combined with an HPV DNA test. If you’re within this age range, locate the closest screening centre to you and make out time for a visit, fast fast. Teenagers who also engage in sexual activities should get tested.
So what happens when the tests confirm cervical cancer, and what treatment options are available? Depending on the circumstance, and often doctor’s recommendation, patients can go with:
In some instances, patients go with a combination of these treatment options. Early-stage cervical cancer is typically curbed with a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus). While that sounds like a drastic move, this option is the most effective in preventing cancer from coming back. So it’s preferable when the woman is not concerned about maintaining fertility.
If you found this article informative, please share to spread awareness. Stay safe and healthy.