Cancer is a word that can scare and even terrify most of us because there are often few indications of most cancers, with the only way to know for sure is getting tested. Unfortunately, this is exactly what a lot of women are not doing in regards to cervical cancer. According to Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, many women (1 in 4 women between 25 and 64 years of age) are avoiding the smear tests that can evaluate if they have cervical cancer. This statistic is even worse for women aged between 25 and 29 where one third avoid the test which can help save their lives.
When assessing why so many women in the country avoid this essential test, it was found that:
- 35% are self-conscious about their body shape
- 34% are self-conscious about the appearance of their vagina
- 38% are self-conscious about their odor/smell
- 31% don’t go if they have not shaved/waxed
What many women don’t realize is that cervical cancer is very dangerous if ignored and was once the number one cause of death for women until Dr. George Papanicolaou introduced the Pap test in the 1940s. This test helped reduce the deaths due to cervical cancer by over half and is used even today to help screen for precancerous growths in the cervix.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease that is an uncontrolled growth of cells which occurs in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the HPV (Human papillomavirus) infection which is known to spread through sexual contact. While this infection is usually combated by the woman’s immune system, there are cases where the virus causes cervical cancer.
This article will look at the key facts about cervical cancer, as well as the signs of infection, treatment options, risk factors, and methods of screening for cervical cancer.
What Are The Signs & Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer?
Unlike many other types of cancers, cervical cancer doesn’t always present signs or symptoms of the infection until the later stages of the disease progression. As with most cancer treatments, the sooner cervical cancer is identified, the higher the chances of successful treatment.
Here are the primary signs of having cervical cancer:
- Unusual Vaginal Bleeding: This includes bleeding between your periods or after having sex, as well after menopause or heavier than normal periods.
- Fatigue: Cervical cancer is one of the main reasons that you may experience fatigue.
- Abnormal Vaginal Discharge: Can be caused cervical cancer or something else but if your discharge has a foul smell, you should talk to your doctor about getting tested.
- Changes To Bowel Movements: Persistent changes in stool quality can be a result of cervical cancer as well as always feeling like urinating being another sign of cervical cancer.
- Pelvic Pain (Not Related To Periods): A major sign of cervical cancer which can vary in the area of the pelvis as well as the intensity of pain (from a dull ache to piercing pain).
It should be noted that these signs of cervical cancer have a greater chance of appearing for women in their late 30s to their 50s.
What Are The Treatment Options For Cervical Cancer?
There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of getting cervical cancer with the following being the primary treatment options for cervical cancer:
- Surgery: Different surgeries can be conducted to remove cervical cancer from the cervix, including removing a partial section or the whole cervix if required.
- Radiation Therapy: Uses concentrated X-rays to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Uses medications to help kill the cancer cells.
- Chemoradiation: Uses a combination of Radiation therapy and Chemotherapy.
How Does Cervical Cancer Screening Work?
The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to get screened periodically every three years. You should also be aware that most woman’s health checkups also check for cervical cancer. The screening can be done by the HPV test and Pap test which can be done together or individually. These tests usually begin by the medical practitioner collecting cells from the cervix surface.
The HPV test checks for the HPV infection while the Pap test checks for abnormal cells which could turn into cancer cells or already formed cancer cells. There are additional tests like biopsy which may be required for some, but this depends on the doctor and the results of your screening. While some women feel that the tests are embarrassing, it needs to be understood that these tests are essential to reducing the chances of getting cervical cancer.
What Is The Vaccine For Cervical Cancer?
Another way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer is to take the HPV vaccine which protects from many strains of the virus. The advantage of this is that after being vaccinated, your chances of contracting HPV are significantly reduced. However, note that this vaccine is effective only when used before being infected by the virus.
Doctors encourage teens and young adults to get this vaccine, especially if they are about to become sexually active. These vaccines include Gardasil, Gardasil 9 and Cervarix (female use only). The vaccines are given with two doses (three doses for those who started vaccination later), at least six months apart.
What Are The Risk Factors For Cervical Cancer?
There are a few risk factors which can increase the chances of you getting cervical cancer. If more than one of these risk factors applies to you, the risk of cervical cancer may be higher.
The risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- HPV: Virus infection has a high chance of causing cervical cancer.
- Family History: If one person in a family has cervical cancer, there is a 2 to 3 times the risk of other women in the family developing cervical cancer.
- Smoking: Weakens the immune system against HPV as it increases chances by double.
- Immunosuppressant: HIV or other diseases which require immunosuppressant can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
- Chlamydia: Past or present Chlamydia infection have shown to be related to increased risk of cervical cancer.
- Oral Contraceptive: Have shown to increase risk when used for a long time.
- Poor Diet: A diet with insufficient vegetables and fruits causes an increase in the risk of cervical cancer.
- Intrauterine Device Use: Unlike other risk factors on this list, IUDs have shown to reduce the risk of cervical cancer after being used for a period.
Conclusion On Cervical Cancer:
It’s clear from the research done on cervical cancer that this cancer can be treated via chemo, radiation therapy, and surgery but what women need to understand is that there is a better option than surgery or treatment. The alternative is to get yourself tested, screened and vaccinated before getting cervical cancer.
When you consider the dangers of having cervical cancer to the embarrassment of showing your private bits to the nurse, you should know what’s right for your health. You should also know that nurses and doctors are professionals who conduct this test on thousands of women every year and are not as judgmental about your body as you are.
So, if you are eligible for a Pap smear test and haven’t had it done due to being embarrassed like many other women, pick up the phone, call your doctor and get yourself tested, it might just save your life.