January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

When it comes to cervical cancer, prevention is key!  Due to advances in testing, early diagnosis and treatment, and the HPV vaccine, cervical cancer deaths have decreased dramatically. 

Risk factors: 

  • Infection: Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that is spread through sexual contact. Although only a small number of those  
  • infected will develop cervical cancer.  
  • Smoking: Women infected with HPV who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk. 
  • Weakened immune system: Women with a weakened immune system are more at risk for developing an HPV infection and cervical cancer.  
  • Birth control: Using birth control pills for more than 5 years may increase the risk of cervical cancer among women. 

Signs and symptoms: 

Patients experiencing any of these symptoms should consult a physician. 

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding 
  • discharge Pain during intercourse 

Screening: 

Cervical cancer can be found early and even prevented with routine screening tests. Screening is looking for cancer before a person has any symptoms. The cervical cancer death rate in the United States continues to decline by approximately 2% each year. This is primarily due to women undergoing routine cervical cancer screening (Pap tests), which helps detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. 

There are certain guidelines regarding cervical cancer screenings set in place by The American Cancer Society, which include:  

  • Pap test every 3 years for women 21-29 years of age. HPV testing is not recommended unless there are abnormal Pap results. 
  • Pap test and HPV test (co-testing) every 5 years for women 30-65 years of age. It also is acceptable to have a Pap test alone every 3 years. 
  • Women age 65 or older who have had regular screening within the last 10 years and no serious pre-cancers within the last 20 years no longer need to be screened. 
  • Women who have had a total hysterectomy do not need screenings unless the surgery was performed as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer or cancer.  

Prevention: 

Although cancer can’t always be prevented, the following steps can lower your risk. 

  • Talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine greatly reduces the risk by preventing infection with the types of HPV that cause cervical cancer.  
  • Kick the habit. Putting out the cigarette can lower your risk of cervical cancer. 
  • Get screened. A pap smear or HPV test can detect cancer or pre-cancer early. 
  • Using barrier protection. Using a condom and limiting your number of partners can reduce your risk. 

 

Sources: 

  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/patient/cervical-prevention-pdq

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