10 Things Women Need to Know about Cervical Cancer
Cancer of the cervix originates in the cells lining the cervix (or uterine cervix) located at the lower part of the uterus which connects to the upper vagina or birth canal. It remains as a common cause of cancer and cancer death among women in developing countries without access to screening or vaccines. However, if detected early, the chances of cure are high.
Here are ten things that every woman should know about this ailment:
- Cervical cancer is caused when the cervical cells change and become pre-cancerous. Hence, it is important that those cells are found and treated before they become cancer.
- It is one of the most preventable cancers in women, and its death rate has dropped by more than half in the past few decades. However, the signs or symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer do not manifest themselves until the cancer is already in an advanced state.
- Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.
- An unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Screening tests can detect cervical cancer and the human papilloma virus (HPV) that usually causes it. A pap test checks for signs the cervical cells are becoming or have already become pre-cancerous. If the result is ‘abnormal’, the doctor will do more tests and remove more tissue from the cervix for a biopsy.
- If it turns out that the cells are pre-cancerous, it does not necessarily mean that you will get cervical cancer. It would more likely indicate that cancer will be prevented because of early treatment.
- Cervical cancer grows slowly. It usually takes a few years for a normal cervical cell to turn into a cancerous one, if it ever does. Thus, finding and treating pre-cancerous cells is the best way to prevent it.
- An HPV infection is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Vaccination against HPVs is an effective preventive measure.
- This type of cancer may run in families. It is two to three times more likely for someone to get it if their mother or sister had it. Age is another concern. Most women who get cervical cancer are between the ages of 20 and 50.
- If you are a smoker, you have double the chance of getting cervical cancer than a nonsmoker. According to studies, tobacco byproducts can start the cell changes that make cancer develop.
- Other things that increase your chances of getting cervical cancer include long term use of birth control pills, more than three full-term pregnancies, weakened immune system, and a first pregnancy before age 17.