This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a cancer of the reproductive system that happens when abnormal cells develop in the cervix - 'the cervix is the lower part of your uterus that connects your uterus and vagina.' According to research conducted in 2018, "cervical cancer was the fourth most common cancer in women, ranking after breast cancer (2·1 million cases), colorectal cancer (0·8 million) and lung cancer (0·7 million)."
Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted infection that causes genital warts. Not all HPV infections cause cervical cancers, as there are around 100 different strains of the virus; cervical cancer is most commonly caused by the HPV-6 and HPV-18 strains of human papillomavirus.
What are the stages of Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is staged based on the extent of its spread. The stages include:
- Stage 0 (Carcinoma in situ): Abnormal cells are found only in the innermost lining of the cervix.
- Stage I: Cancer is confined to the cervix.
- Stage II: Cancer has spread beyond the cervix but not to the pelvic sidewall or the lower third of the vagina.
- Stage III: Cancer extends to the lower third of the vagina or the pelvic sidewall and may involve nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to nearby organs, such as the bladder or rectum, or to distant organs.
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What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer doesn't usually cause symptoms until the late stages, which can make it difficult to detect. In addition, those experiencing symptoms can mistake them for UTI symptoms and menstruation irregularities.
Typical cervical cancer symptoms are:
- Unusual bleeding, like in between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
- Vaginal discharge that looks or smells different than usual; it may be watery or has blood in it.
- Pain in the pelvis.
- Needing to urinate more often or pain during urination.
What are the risk factors of Cervical Cancer?
- A chlamydia infection.
- People who start having sex before the age of 18.
- Having too many sexual partners.
- HPV: those with high-risk types of HPV, like HPV16, 18, and 31, are at a higher risk for cervical cancer.
- Smoking and being exposed to smoking (secondhand smoking) increases the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Having a weakened immune system, such as people who have HIV/AIDS or other conditions that can weaken the immune system.
- Long-term use of oral birth control pills.
- Women who have given birth to three or more children.
- Having children before the age of 25.
- Having a family history of cervical cancer.
How do I prevent Cervical Cancer?
- HPV Screening: Pap Smear or Pap Test and HPV tests can help detect abnormal cells and precancer cells on the cervix before they turn into cancer.
- HPV Vaccine: Gardasil 9, an FDA-approved vaccine for women and girls ages 9-45, can help prevent cancers caused by several high-risk HPV types. The HPV vaccine works best when administered before being sexually active as it does not treat a current HPV infection.
- Practice safe sex: decrease your chances of HPV transmission and other STIs by consistently using condoms when having intercourse.