Cervical cancer which by definition is cancer that grows in the cervix, the part of the body that connects the uterus and vagina, will be diagnosed in approximately 12,200 women in 2010.  Most will be under the age of 55.   Approximately 4,210 women will lose their lives this year to cervical cancer. According to a report by the CDC more than half of cervical cancers in the United States are not diagnosed until later stages—making it much more difficult to treat. “More work is needed to widely implement evidence-based cancer screening tests which may lead to early detection and, ultimately, an increase in the number of lives saved,” said Marcus Plescia, director of the CDC’s division of cancer prevention and control.

Sometimes cervical cancer can be present even though you don’t have any symptoms, especially in the early stages.   That’s why it’s important to schedule regular Pap tests with your doctor because pap test screening can help find cancerous cells early—before they have the opportunity to spread.

cervixandfemaleorgansLearning more about HPV:

Because a major risk factor for cervical cancer is the HPV virus, it’s important to understand more about it. When a sexually-active woman contracts the human papilloma virus or HPV through sexual contact, infections can occur. These can be in the form of warts in any part of the body, polyps and cysts. These growth of excess cells are considered benign or harmless. However, malignant or cancerous growths can also occur such as tumors in the cervix, the area below the uterus where the baby grows during pregnancy. These tumors are the beginning of cervical cancer.

  • Signs and symptoms of Cervical Cancer:

    In the early stages of cervical cancer, women may experience the following symptoms:

Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding:

  • Bleeding in between a menstrual cycle. Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of cervical cancer.
  • Bleeding that occurs when  you are not menstruating.  This  should be reported to your physician right away.
  • Heavy bleeding during menstruation. Women may experience heavier bleeding when they have cervical cancer. It may vary from light to heavy bleeding. Because of the cancerous growth, the cervix becomes prone to bleeding and may become easily irritated after sex or douching.
  • Menstrual periods that last longer or are heavier than before

    Other Symptoms of Cervical Cancer:

  • Vaginal discharge. Normal discharge is white or clear and should not have any offensive odors. Any discharge that is not normal may indicate a sexually-transmitted disease, infection or cervical cancer. It is important that tests are conducted to identify the cause for such a discharge.
  • Pain during Sexual activity

    Who’s at High Risk for Cervical Cancer?

    Although sometimes there’s no clear cut reason why one woman may develop cancer and another will not, there are certain factors that can make one more susceptible or more likely to develop the disease.  Here are some things that could increase your risk of developing cervical cancer.

    Risk Factors for Developing Cervical Cancer:

Being Infected with HPV (Nearly all cases of Cervical cancers are caused by HPV which is a group of viruses that can infect the cervix area. What puts some women even more at risk is having an HPV infection that won’t go away. Nearly everyone who is an adult has been infected with HPV at some times in their lives but a woman who is infected with HPV that is ongoing is more at risk.

  • Lack of regular screening exams (Women who forgo regular pap testing are putting themselves at risk for cancer because pap tests can detect changes in cells before they become problematic).
  • Those with Weakened Immune Systems are also at higher risk of getting  cervical cancer. Especially anyone with HIV or those who are taking immunosuppressive medications
  • Smoking: smoking is a risk for many medical conditions including contracting cervical cancer
  • An increased number of sexual partners puts women at a greater risk of contracting cervical cancer. Or simply having sexual relations with a man who has had a large number of sexual partners also puts the woman at higher risk. 
  • The use of birth control pills over an extended period of time  (more than 5 years) may also slightly increase your risk of getting cervical cancer, especially those who are actively infected with the HPV virus.
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure: Daughters who were exposed to DES prior to being born may have a higher risk of contracting a rare form of cervical cancer.  Between the years of 1940 and 1971 DES was given to some pregnant women in the United States. This is no longer occurring.

 

Even if you have several risk factors for cervical cancer it does not mean that you will have it during your lifetime.  But being aware of the risk factors as well as the cervical cancer symptoms will help you be a better advocate for your own health care. And paying attention to symptoms that may signal cancer could be important to you or a family member or friend.  The first step towards battling cancer of any kind is to raise awareness. Please let other women know what signs and symptoms they should report to their doctor.   You could possibly save your own or someone else’s life.