What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, where the vagina connects to the lower part of the uterus.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

In the early stages of the disease, many women don’t have signs or symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Pelvic pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstruation
  • Bloody, watery vaginal discharge with a strong, foul odor

Since there aren’t always symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer, it’s important to have regular gynecological checkups. That allows your OB/GYN to check for an array of abnormalities and conditions.

What causes cervical cancer?

Various strains of HPV, or human papillomavirus, can cause cervical cancer. HPV strains that are sexually transmitted can develop into cervical cancer if left untreated.

When you’re exposed to HPV, your immune system usually stops the virus from hurting you, but in some cases, the virus survives and contributes to cervical cancer forming.

To protect yourself from the sexually transmitted strains of HPV, you should:

  • Practice safe sex
  • Get an HPV vaccine
  • Get regular screenings

Experts believe environmental factors also play a role in causing cervical cancer.

What are the risks for cervical cancer?

Some of the risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Engaging in sexual activity at an early age
  • A weakened immune system due to a health condition
  • Having many sexual partners
  • Contracting other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia, syphilis, and gonorrhea

Are there tests that can prevent cervical cancer or find it early?

There are two tests that can either prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

  • Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. It looks for precancers and cell changes on the cervix. This test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 29 years old. If you are 30 years old or older you may choose to have a Pap test or an HPV test or both tests together. The Pap test looks for precancers, cell changes, on the cervix that can be treated, so that cervical cancer is prevented. The Pap test also can find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective.

If the cells collected from your cervix during your Pap test look abnormal, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, but it tells your doctor that other tests need to be done for confirmation, such as a colposcopy.

The Pap test only screens for cervical cancer and does not screen for any other gynecological cancer.

  • HPV test looks for HPV–the virus that can cause precancerous cell changes and cervical cancer.

What are the treatments for cervical cancer?

Your OB/GYN can treat cervical cancer in the early stages with a hysterectomy, a surgery to remove the uterus.

Surgery that preserves fertility might be an option, depending on how much cancer has spread and if lymph nodes are involved.

Your OB/GYN may recommend other treatment options, such as radiation or chemotherapy, as well as medications to relieve associated pain.

This information is provided for informational educational purposes only, and should not be considered as individual medical advice. Please discuss your specific situation with your medical provider.

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