What is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.
When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus which connects the vagina (the birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
Who gets cervical cancer?
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. However, it occurs most often in women over age 30. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer and is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex.
Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer however, may cause abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.
Tests and Screenings
There are two tests that can either help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for pre-cancer cell changes on the cervix that can be treated, so that cervical cancer is prevented. The Pap test can also nd cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. The Pap test is recommended for women aged to years old but only screens for cervical cancer. It does not screen for any other gynecologic cancer.
The HPV test looks for HPV — the virus that can cause precancerous cell changes and cervical cancer.
If your doctor says that you have cervical cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist — a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers like this. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.
What Raises a Woman’s Chance of Getting Cervical Cancer?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. You are more likely to get HPV if you started having sex at an early age, or if you or your partner has had sex with several others. Any woman who has ever had sex is at risk for HPV.
There are many types of HPVs and usually they go away on their own, but if they do not, they may cause cervical cancer over time.
In addition to HPV, these things also can increase your risk of cervical cancer:
- Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems
- Using birth control pills for a long time (five or more years)
- Having given birth to three or more children
How to Prevent Cervical Cancer
- See your doctor regularly for a Pap test that can find cervical pre-cancers
- Follow up with your doctor, if your Pap test results are not normal
- Don’t smoke
- Use condoms during sex
- Limit your number of sexual partners