Cervical cancer will effect roughly 1 in 125 American women in their lifetime. It is most commonly diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 with the average age of diagnosis being 50. However, although rare, women younger than 20 can develop cancer in their cervix as well. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer found in females. Cervical cancer can be deadly if left untreated or if it is diagnosed in a late stage after it has spread to other areas of the body. Fortunately, when it is detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate for people with invasive cervical cancer is 92%. Learning the warning signs and best prevention methods for cervical cancer is the biggest key to minimizing the risk of contracting and developing fatal cervical cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the two biggest keys to preventing the development of cervical cancer are to get vaccinated against HPV if you are eligible, and to get HPV and cervical cancer screenings on a regular basis. Most cases of cervical cancer start with pre-cancerous changes in the cervix. Luckily, pre-cancerous changes are completely reversible and with early treatment can be stopped before they become invasive cancers. There are two main tests used for detecting pre-cancers in the cervix, the first one is the HPV test which looks for infection by high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to cause pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix. The second screening test is the Pap test or Pap smear which is used to collect cells from the cervix so that they can be looked at closely in a lab to find cancer and pre-cancer. The results of the HPV test and/or Pap smear, along with your past test results, determines your risk for developing cervical cancer. If you have positive test results you will most likely require follow-up visits with your doctor, more pre-cancer/cancer screenings, and possibly treatment for any pre-cancerous cells that may be found.
Outside of getting vaccinated and screened for HPV, limiting your exposure to HPV by practicing safe sex and limiting the amount of sexual partners you have are other smart strategies for preventing the onset of cervical cancer. Condoms provide some protection against HPV but do not completely prevent infection since they don’t cover all areas of the skin that can be infected with the virus. However, they do offer some protection against HPV and can also help protect you against other STD’s, such as HIV and Chlamydia, which can also increase your risk for cervical cancer. Additional risk factors can include smoking and taking oral contraceptives for a long period of time. Symptoms of cervical cancer can appear as vaginal bleeding, menstrual periods that are longer or heavier than normal, increased vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, and other abnormal reproductive changes. If you experience any of these symptoms it is vital you schedule an appointment with your Obstetrician or Gynecologist immediately in order to receive early treatment.
Although it can be an unsettling and frightening topic to discuss, it is important to speak with your doctor about your individual risk for developing cervical cancer and the steps you can take to prevent it. Getting regular STD and STI screenings, avoiding smoking, and eating a diet rich in vegetables and antioxidant foods can all be additional ways of lowering your risk for cervical cancer. Since most early forms of cervical cancer do not include any symptoms, staying ahead by practicing these proactive tips can be your best defense against developing the disease. If you haven’t been screened recently, make sure to schedule a checkup with your primary-care physician or OB-GYN specialist as soon as you can.
- Can cervical cancer be prevented: Ways to prevent cervical cancer. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
- Seladi-Schulman, J. (2021, June 27). How common is cervical cancer? statistics, risk factors & more. Healthline. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/cervical-cancer/how-common-is-cervical-cancer#diagnosis-treatment
- The American Cancer Society Guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/cervical-cancer-screening-guidelines.html
- World Health Organization. (n.d.). Cervical cancer. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://www.who.int/health-topics/cervical-cancer#tab=tab_1