Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs in the lining of your cervix, the lowest part of your uterus. It starts when cells in your body begin to grow out of control.
It is fairly rare, and getting rarer. There are fewer than 200,000 cases per year in the U.S..
More than 90% of those diagnosed with cervical cancer are also diagnosed with HPV infection of the cervix. Most of the time, an HPV infection will stay in your body for 2-3 years and then go away on its own, but for some women, it does not, and then could become cervical cancer.
Having the HPV virus doesn’t mean you will get cervical cancer, but there are a few things that can increase your risk:
Certain ethnic groups are also more at risk for developing cervical cancer. Hispanic women have a higher incidence of cervical cancer, but more African American women die from cervical cancer each year.
Many women don’t know they have cervical cancer because in the beginning, cervical cancer often doesn’t have any symptoms. If you do have cervical cancer, you may have symptoms when the condition is further along. You may have:
A Pap smear can a detect changes in your cervical cells that suggest cancer may develop in the future. Detecting these abnormal cells early with a Pap smear is your first step in halting the possible development of cervical cancer.
Beginning at age 21, a Pap test is recommended every 3 years. For women between the ages 30-65, co-testing is recommended every 5 years, which means a combined test for HPV and a Pap smear.
Depending on the findings, you might need a colposcopy. A colposcopy is an in-office procedure to closely examine your cervix with a special microscope called a colposcope for signs of disease. If your provider sees any irregularities, small biopsies are taken and sent to the lab.
Depending on what your pap smear results were, combined with your biopsy results, we may just retest you with a pap smear yearly for two years. Your provider will work with you to develop a treatment plan based on your case.
If untreated, cervical cancer can be fatal. It often spreads to the bladder, rectum, lungs, liver, and bones
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get screened regularly. Your healthcare provider can tell you how often you should get screened. When caught early, cervical cancer is very treatable.
The HPV vaccine is also an excellent prevention measure. All children ages 11-12 should be vaccinated. The vaccine very effective at this young age. It protects against the most dangerous types of HPV, and against the low-risk types that cause genital warts. Most insurances cover the vaccine. If you were not vaccinated when you were younger, people ages 26-45 can also get the vaccine.
Lastly, using condoms is not fully protective for preventing HPV infection, especially genital warts, but it can protect against the more dangerous HPV infections of the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer.