Globally, Cervical Cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women.The World Health Organization estimates there are 570,000 diagnosed with Cervical Cancer every year, with more than half losing their battle against it. It is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35-44. In light of Cervical Cancer Awareness month, we partnered with Dr. Carolyn Moyers, a board-certified OB-GYN and Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine trained physician, to provide an expert overview of Cervical Cancer.
What Causes Cervical Cancer
The main cause of cervical cancer is a long-lasting infection within the cervix with high-risk strains of human papillomavirus (HPV).
What is HPV
There are more than 150 types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), with some types causing genital warts, and others being high risk of infection and cancer. HPV is associated with cancer of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, as well as mouth and throat cancer, and genital warts. It can spread by skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections within the United States. Almost everyone who is sexually active will get an HPV infection during some time in their life. Usually, there aren’t any symptoms detected, making the infection easily transmissible without being aware. Most HPV infections are transient and pose little risk of progression. This is due to your body fighting off the virus. (Go immune system!)
There’s always a chance that a small fraction of infections are persistent. Persistent infections that last for one to two years strongly predict the risk of the virus causing a progression of precancerous cells and cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
The early stages of cancer may have no signs or symptoms. More advanced Cervical Cancer may have symptoms of vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods, after menopause, pelvic pain, and watery or bloody discharge that may have a foul odor
How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer screening guidelines have been revised several times in the past decade. Here are the most current recommendations:
- Screening should begin at age 21.
- For individuals aged 30-65 years old, there are three recommended options for cervical cancer screening:
- Primary hrHPV testing every 5 years,
- Cervical cytology testing every 3 years
- Co-testing with a combination of Cytology and hrHPV testing every 5 years
All three screening strategies are effective. Talk to your doctor to understand which is right for you.
Gardasil is an HPV vaccine that provides immunization against 9 types of HPV. This includes types 16 and 18 which are responsible for the majority of Cervical Cancer, and types 6 and 11 which cause genital warts.
In October 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the HPV vaccine for individuals ages 27-45 years. The vaccine is safe and effective in preventing new HPV infections. If you have already been infected with one or more of the HPV types, the vaccine does not cure but may protect you against other types of HPV. There have been dramatic drops in HPV, abnormal pap, procedures to evaluate abnormal pap (colposcopy, LEEP, CKC), and Cervical Cancer where the vaccine is widely given.
Use a condom every time you have sex and be cautious of your partners’ sexual history.
Smoking weakens your immune system. A weak immune system is not able to fight off HPV and other viruses.
So, You Had An Abnormal Pap Smear With Positive HPV- Now What
It’s recommended to get a colposcopy if you have an abnormal pap smear or test positive for HPV. Colposcopy is a way of looking at the cervix through a special magnifying device called a colposcope. It is placed just outside the opening of the vagina and shines a light into the vagina and cervix. A colposcope enlarges the normal view, allowing an Obstetrician-Gynecologist (OB-GYN) to find issues that cannot be seen by the eye alone and take biopsies to get a diagnosis if needed.
How To Treat Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer is treated in several ways, depending on the kind of Cervical Cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. If your doctor tells you that you have Cervical Cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. This doctor will work with you to create your treatment plan.
Want to learn more about Cervical Cancer?
This is not medical advice, just medical education. Please ask your doctor medical questions as they pertain to your specific situation. Educational purposes.
Dr. Carolyn Moyers, DO is a board-certified OB-GYN and Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine trained physician, and founder of Sky Women’s Health, a boutique practice in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
Disclaimer:This document contains information and/or instructional materials for a typical patient. It may include links to online content that was not created by Care+Wear and for which Care+Wear does not assume responsibility. It does not replace medical advice from your health care provider because your experience may differ from that of the typical patient. Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions about this document, your condition or your treatment plan.
If you are looking for more resources and support for Cervical Cancer and other illnesses, check out our other blogs:
- 7 Helpful Tips For Coping With Cervical Cancer
- 13 Ways To Help A Loved One With Cancer
- Protecting Your Mental Health After A Cancer Diagnosis
Are you getting your Pap smears routinely? Let us know in the comments! We love hearing from our community members! If you have any further questions, feel free to contact us for more information.