Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix, which is an organ that brides the uterus to the vagina. It is often a slow-growing cancer that’s detectable via a Pap smear test. With more and more women keeping up with annual Pap smears and/or HPV screenings, cervical cancer rates are steadily on the decline.
Why Cervical Cancer?
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. HPV encompasses hundreds of viruses. Some of these strains cause cervical cancers. Others cause genital warts. It is a sexually transmitted infection that’s contracted through skin-to-skin contact. According to the National Cancer Institute, two HPV vaccines are currently available that have been shown to protect against most types of cervical cancer.
While cancer-causing cells in the cervix don’t typically trigger symptoms, there are still symptoms associated with the disease. Abnormal vaginal bleeding and/or discharge, pain during sex, menstrual changes, urinary problems and anemia are all common symptoms. While HPV causes most cases of cervical cancer, the American Cancer Society says that several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing it. Smoking, past or current chlamydia infection, poor diet, birth control pills taken for more than five years, and having a family history of cervical cancer all increase the risk. In addition, immunosuppression has been found to raise the risk. For this reason, HIV-positive women and women taking immunosuppressants are more likely to be diagnosed.
Treatment is greatly determined by the stage of the cancer. Cryosurgery uses cold nitrogen gas to freeze and destroy cancerous tissue. Abnormal cervical tissue can all be cut away using an electrified loop of thin wire. A hysterectomy is also necessary for some women, although it may be avoided if the cancer is caught early. Radiation and/or chemotherapy are used, as well. For women who have not gone through menopause yet, radiation may cause it to begin early.
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