The second installment of “January Health/Lifestyle topics month” is devoted to cervical cancer. If you are or have a woman in your life, you want to make sure that she reads this blog entry. Cervical cancer can affect women up to the age of 70 years old. So it’s important to get screened even if you are older.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix, the narrow opening into the uterus from the vagina. The normal “ectocervix” (the portion of the uterus extending into the vagina) is a healthy pink color and is covered with flat, thin cells called squamous cells. The “endocervix” or cervical canal is made up of another kind of cell called columnar cells. The area where these cells meet is called the “transformation zone” (T-zone) and is the most likely location for abnormal or precancerous cells to develop. (see photo below)
In the United States, more than 12,000 women will be diagnosed each year, and more than 4,000 will die from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer among women WORLDWIDE. About 200,000 women worldwide will die from this disease. The encouraging news is that cervical cancer is slow to develop in the body and is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
About 99% of cervical cancer cases are from the Human Papillomavirus or HPV. There are over 100 different kinds of HPV, most of which are very low-risk and do not cause cervical cancer. The high-risk strains that are known to cause cervical cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
Sexual contact is the most common transmission mode of infection in the United States. It’s so common that 80% of women have been infected with some form of HPV by the time she is 50 years old! Remember most strains are low-risk and usually go away on their own. That’s the amazing ability of the human body to heal its self. However, persistent HPV infection puts a woman at increased risk for developing abnormal cervical cells, which increases her at risk of cervical cancer.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Precancerous cervical cell abnormalities typically do not have any symptoms. That’s why it’s important for women to get regular Pap and HPV tests, which are the best ways to catch precancerous cells before they develop into cervical cancer. However, symptoms of more advanced disease include:
Bleeding between regular menstrual cycle
Bleeding after sexual intercourse
Heavy or unusual discharge (watery, thick, foul smell)
Pain during urination
Please talk to your doctor or health care provider if you experience these or any other unusual symptoms.
Medical experts have recommend that all females between the ages of 9 and 26 get an HPV vaccine. There are currently three approved vaccines available on the market: Gardasil®, Cervarix®, and Gardasil 9®
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also made a recommendation that all 11 year-old boys and girls receive the HPV vaccine. Males are also at risk for HPV and related diseases. So far the vaccine has proven to be safe as many people all over the world have received the vaccination. Research has found that HPV infection rates among females has decreased when compared to females of the same age years ago before the vaccinations were made available.
There has been a lot of controversy from parents, lawmakers, churches and special interest groups on whether or not parents should follow CDC recommendations and vaccinate their children. At the end of the day it is a personal choice that should be fully researched and thought out. Speak with your healthcare provider to receive more information.
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. If you are a woman and/or you have a woman in your life that you care about, make sure she gets her yearly Pap/HPV screening. Cervical cancer is preventable if caught early enough. According to cancer.gov women ages 21-29 (or sooner if sexually active) should have a Pap test every 3 years. Women 30-65 should be screened every 5 years. However, if you are sexually active you should be getting screened more frequently than the recommendation. If you have had abnormal Pap tests in the past, you should also be getting screened more frequently.
For more information about cervical cancer please speak with your doctor and visit:
**I have not been compensated or sponsored by any website, organization or pharmaceutical brand mentioned in this story.
***All data in story has been cited and referenced by cancer.gov and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition
Gardasil® and Gardasil 9® are registered trademarks of Merck & Co. Inc.
Cervarix®, is a registered trademark of the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) group of companies.