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What to Know About Cervical Cancer

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

“Cervical cancer.”

Ladies, you’ve heard these words before, probably too many times. Between appointments with your gynecologist and primary care doctor, commercials on TV, things shared on social media, and stories from family and friends, you’ve become too familiar with the horrors around the words “cervical cancer”. But the truth is that not enough women know about the disease or what they can do to prevent or treat it. This is why January is Cervical Health Awareness Month- to give women the necessary knowledge about cervical cancer and how they can get it under control.
Every year in the United States, over 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and ⅓ of those women lose their battle. With it being the second most common cancer among women and so easily preventable, though, that number should be significantly lower. But the reality is that it’s not, and there needs to be something done about it. 
99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, which is the most common of all sexually transmitted diseases. 80% of women will be exposed to this STD by the time they are 50 years old. Most of the time, HPV will not transform into cervical cancer and most women will be resolved of HPV in about 2 years. In rare cases, though, it does turn into cervical cancer - which is obviously something much more serious. Rather than taking chances of your body being able to resolve its own issues with the STD, both women and men should receive the HPV vaccine between the ages of 9 and 26, since both genders can contract the disease and cause it to spread among others through sexual intercourse.
Symptoms for cervical cancer are rarely shown in the first stages, so that is why it is important to have a routine annual check-up with your gynecologist. Appointments like these are never anticipated, but they’re crucial when looking for any signs of HPV or cervical cancer. During this appointment, your gynecologist will perform a Papanicolaou, or Pap, test, which is a screening to look for signs of pre-cancerous abnormalities and is the most effective way to detect signs and symptoms. This test is so vastly important because, if caught early enough, cervical cancer can actually be cured. Studies have shown that 50% of women that are diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap test done, meaning that 50% of women could have had their problem taken care of before it got too severe.
Since symptoms don’t really show in the first few stages, the cancer can become a serious problem very quickly. Symptoms can include abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods, bleeding after sex, and pain in the pelvic area. As soon as you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your gynecologist. Even if it’s not cervical cancer, it could still be another health issue that you need to get taken care of.
So what are the risk factors? Like most cancers, one should avoid smoking because cigarettes contain cancer-causing chemicals that will start in the lungs, but will potentially spread throughout the body. Also, contact your gynecologist if you have been on the same oral contraceptive for an extended amount of time as this could lead to potential problems with the cervix. Women should also try to keep a healthy diet and exercise daily, because overweight women tend to be more at risk. Cervical cancer can literally happen out of anywhere, though, not needing a risk factor. Be sure to keep in contact with your healthcare professionals, and know that your body and health takes precedence. 
Cervical cancer is just as important to learn about as breast cancer. You can help lower statistics of women diagnosed every year, and see your gynecologist for a routine appointment.

Ellis Medicine | Newsroom

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