Signs of Cervical Cancer
How long has it been since you have had a Pap Test? According to the National Cancer Institute (NIH), about 13,000 American women between the ages of 35 to 44 will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. With early detection and regular visits to the doctor most cervical cancer can be detected and prevented. The World Health Organization (WHO) shares that worldwide, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women.
What is cervical cancer?
The Mayo Clinic defines cervical cancer as a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
What causes cervical cancer?
Unfortunately, it isn’t known what causes cervical cancer. But human papilloma virus (HPV) and sexually transmitted diseases are definitely part of the problem.
According to the American Cancer Society, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause most cervical cancers. HPV is very common; the most common STI in fact. Even if a person has had only one partner they can get HPV. Although people who have multiple partners are more prone to getting HPV. A person can have HPV and have no symptoms and still pass it on to a sexual partner. There may be other ways that a person can be infected with HPV, but that is not known yet.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
There might not be noticeable symptoms before the advanced cervical cancer appears. That is why it is essential to have routine doctor visits and screenings to ensure that symptoms internally are caught early. If precautions aren’t taken here are the symptoms that can be expected:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, after a pelvic exam or after menopause. If your cycle is off, make sure you are talking to your doctor. The CDC provides a symptom diary that can be used to track this information.
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor.
- Pelvic pain/pressure or pain during intercourse.
- Lower back pain.
After the cancer has spread, you can expect the following:
- Pelvic pain
- Trouble peeing
- Swollen legs
- Kidney failure
- Bone pain
- Weight loss and loss of appetite
What types of cervical cancer are there?
There are two main types of cervical cancers, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Nine out of ten of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. The remainder of the cervical cancers cases are usually adenocarcinoma.
Other factors that can increase chances of getting cervical cancer:
- If your mother took a miscarriage prevention drug called, Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant in the 1950s, you might be prone to a cervical cancer called, Clear Cell Adenocarcinoma.
- If you have HIV.
- If you smoke.
- If you have used birth control for over 5 years.
- If you have given birth to three or more children.
- If you have had several sexual partners.
- If you aren’t practicing safe sex.
- If you have a weakened immune system.
- If you have a sexually trasmitted infection (STI).
- If you started having sex before age 16, or a year after starting your period.
What tests/screenings should be done to check for cervical cancer?
There are two screening tests for detecting cervical cancer.
- The Pap Test, which will find cell changes on the cervix that could become cervical cancer if not taken care of early.
- The HPV test currently on the market is only for the cervix. It cannot detect HPV on a penis, in the mouth, in the anus, or in the throat. The American Cancer Society advises people 25 to 65 get a primary HPV test every five years. If you haven’t had the HPV vaccine yet and you are older than 26, the vaccine might not be as effective. Women between the ages of 27 and 45 can get the HPV vaccine after consulting with a doctor.
How can you prevent cervical cancer?
All women are at risk of cervical cancer, so preventative measures are the best option. Make sure you:
- have a routine Pap Test (every three years after you turn 21)
- get the HPV vaccine at 12 years old, or before you turn 26 if you are older
- practice safe sex
- avoiding having multiple partners
- test for HPV
- don’t smoke
Something to keep in mind is that sometimes cervical cancer can have no symptoms at all, making it difficult for you to get treated if you haven’t been keeping up with your doctor visits. That is why Pap Tests and HPV testing are essential. Make your health a priority and schedule your doctor's appointment today.