If you’re like most women, you know all about breast cancer, lung cancer, and other forms of the disease. But how much do you know about cervical cancer? Since January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, this is the perfect time to learn about this condition.
Cervical cancer is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). It affects the cells of the cervix, which is part of a woman’s uterus. Many woman are exposed to HPV and may develop genital warts or have no reaction at all. However, certain strains of HPV can lead to cancer.
Women can also develop cervical cancer by having a week immune system or by contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Further, studies show that cigarette smoking may play a role in cancer cell growth in the cervix.
In its early stages, cervical cancer may have no symptoms at all. When there are symptoms, they may include these:
- vaginal discharge that is intermittent or continuous
- vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
- menstrual periods that are longer or heavier
- extreme fatigue
- leg pain
- weight loss
- back pain
- loss of appetite
Prevention and Screening
The bad news is that cervical cancer affects thousands of women each year. But the good news is that those numbers are dropping, thanks to prevention and screening.
The HPV vaccine has been proven effective in protecting against HPV, the virus that causes most cervical cancer. Doctors recommend that girls age 9 to 12 receive this immunization. It is also available for young women up to age 26, preferably those who are not already sexually active.
In addition, women are advised to receive Pap tests during their regular gynecological checkups. This screening test checks for cervical cancer and can help catch the disease early, when it is most treatable.
Doctors also recommend the following precautions to lower your risk of cervical cancer:
- delay the first instance of intercourse
- use a condom every time you have intercourse
- do not smoke
If you have questions about cervical cancer prevention or treatment, the Aventura Comprehensive Cancer Center can help. Our staff can assess your situation and help you determine the best course of action.
This January, do the women in your life a favor. Share this information and encourage them to get the vaccinations and screenings that they need.