Each year it is estimated that 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and of those diagnosed, one-third will die as a result of the cancer. But thanks to improved screening and vaccination, cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable.
The American Social Health Association and the National Cervical Cancer Coalition have recognized January as Cervical Health Awareness Month to encourage women across the country to get screened and receive the HPV vaccine if they are eligible.
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50%. The main reason for this change is the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early − in its most curable stage.
Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than 50. It rarely develops in women younger than 20. However, many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age. More than 15% of cases of cervical cancer are found in women over 65. It is important to keep in mind though that these cancers rarely occur in women who have regular tests to screen for cervical cancer before they were 65.
Every women should be screened no matter their age, but some women are at greater risk than others for cervical cancer. Some of those risk factors include:
- Women with HPV, HIV or chlamydia
- Women who use tobacco products
- Women who are obese
- Women who have a family history of cervical cancer
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding after vaginal intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding and spotting between periods
- Periods that are longer or heavier than usual
- Unusual discharge from the vagina
- Pain during intercourse
These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding. Still, if you have any of these signs or other suspicious symptoms, you should see your health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to progress to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment.
Even better, don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Make sure to plan and attend your regular check-up appointments at Greenville Women’s Care for regular screenings. An additional step that women can take to prevent cervical cancer is to receive Gardasil, the HPV vaccine. Ask your doctor if this vaccine is right for you.