Cervical cancer is a largely preventable cancer that affects women. The cervix is the part of the body that connects the uterus to the birth canal/vagina. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to cervical cancer. At least 14 types of HPV are known to cause cancer. According to the World Health Organization, two strains of this virus, 16 and 18, account for 70% of cervical cancer cases. 13,000 women are diagnosed with this form of cancer in the United States each year. The good news is that this cancer is preventable through screening tests and vaccinations.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Common symptoms to look for that may indicate possible cervical cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in pelvic region
- Swelling of legs
- Blood in urine
- Problems urinating or with bowel movements
Remember that a lot of these symptoms could also be signs of many other illnesses. See a physician if you are experiencing any of these to reduce the chances of cervical cancer and increase treatment success. The best way to protect yourself against cervical cancer is through primary and secondary prevention, including vaccinations and screening tests.
The primary form of prevention against HPV recommended for non-sexually active pre-teen youth is vaccination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, youth as young as nine years old can receive the HPV vaccination. However, it is recommended for youth ages of 11 to 12 years . While the main public health focus for the HPV vaccine is for girls, boys can be also receive the vaccine. Two doses are required. The second dose is given 6 to 12 months after receiving the first one. The HPV vaccine is also recommended for men and women up to the age of 26. Anyone receiving the first dose after the age of 15 will need three doses. While HPV vaccinations prevent new infections, they do not treat existing infections or diseases.
Screening tests are a secondary form of prevention that look for pre-cancerous or abnormal cells in the cervix. Two tests are available.
Pap Test – A Pap test allows your doctor to examine the cervix and vagina while collecting tissue to culture to look for precancerous or abnormal cells that could become cancerous if not treated. Pap tests are recommended to be given to women starting at age 21. If results are normal, testing should be repeated every three years.
HPV Test – An HPV test is similar to the Pap test, but it looks specifically for the Human Papillomavirus. It can be done as a stand-alone test or together with a Pap test.
Once you are 30 years old, you can continue getting a Pap test every 3 years if results are normal or a HPV test every 5 years if results are normal, or you can get both a Pap and a HPV test together every 5 years if results are normal.
Vaccinations and proper screening can help to prevent and detect cervical cancer. Take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your children now.
“Cervical Cancer Awareness Feature.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/cervicalcancer/index.htm.
“Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Signs of Cervical Cancer.” American Cancer Society, 3 Jan. 2020, www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html.
“Cervical Health Awareness Month.” NCCC, 2020, www.nccc-online.org/hpvcervical-cancer/cervical-health-awareness-month/#:~:text=The%20United%20States%20Congress%20designated,with%20vaccination%20and%20appropriate%20screening.
“Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 24 Jan. 2019, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer#:~:text=Cervical%20cancer%20is%20caused%20by,%2C%20vagina%2C%20penis%20and%20oropharynx.
Authors: Brianna Gowin – FCS Intern, Angelika Keene – FCS Agent, & Gayle Whitworth – FCS Agent