What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a cancer that all women are at risk of developing during their lifetime. It is most common in women who are 30 years of age and older. Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs in the cells of a woman’s cervix. The cervix is located at the lower part of the uterus and connects to the vagina. The number one cause of cervical cancer in women is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that at least half of all women will come in contact with at some point in their lives. Typically, the body’s immune system can fight this virus off and prevent issues. However, there is a percentage of women that will develop cervical cancer from certain strains of HPV.
What are the different types of cervical cancer?
Squamous cell carcinoma is cervical cancer that starts in the flat, thin cells that line the outer part of the cervix. Squamous cell cervical carcinoma is the most common type of cervical cancer. Adenocarcinoma is cervical cancer that starts the glandular cells that line the cervical canal.
What are symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages of cervical cancer, most women have no symptoms. Women with more advanced cervical cancer may experience vaginal bleeding after sex, irregular vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods, and/or vaginal bleeding after they have gone through menopause. Other symptoms include pelvic pain, pain with sex as well as a heavy vaginal discharge that may be watery or bloody with a foul odor.
What are risk factors for cervical cancer?
· Multiple sexual partners
· Becoming sexually active at a young age
· History of sexually transmitted infections (STI) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomonasis, syphilis. and HIV/AIDS
· Having a weakened immune system
· Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestol (DES), which is a drug to prevent miscarriages while your mother was pregnant with you
How can I reduce my risks of cervical cancer?
· Talk to your healthcare provider about the HPV vaccine to see if it is appropriate for you.
· Always use a condom when sexually active and limit the number of sexual partners.
· Do not smoke
· Have routine Pap tests starting at age 21. Pap tests are the screening tool used to detect precancerous cells on the cervix. If you are between the ages of 30-65 talk to your healthcare provider about the different options for cervical cancer screening. Your provider may order a Pap test only, an HPV test only, or a Pap test with an HPV test.
What if cervical cancer is suspected on my Pap test or HPV testing?
If your healthcare provider suspects cervical cancer, they will perform a colposcopy. A colposcopy is a simple procedure done in the office that allows the provider to obtain a sample of the cervical cells to send to the lab for further testing. You may experience some mild discomfort with this procedure. The stage of cervical cancer and other health conditions will determine the plan of treatment that is right for you. Treatment of cervical cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the three.
The take-home message from this article is to make sure that you are receiving the recommended screenings for cervical cancer as early detection is key.
Darci Moore, CNP, is a Certified Nurse Practitioner at Fayette County Public Health (FCPH). FCPH offers cervical cancer screenings through our Reproductive Health and Wellness Clinic (RHW) with late hours available to meet the needs of patients. Call the FCPH office if you would like to schedule an appointment (740-335-5910). To learn more about RHW services, visit faycohd.org/nursing.