Cervical Cancer Overview

 

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Cancer of the cervix is preventable with regular screening, using the Pap smear. For female pre-teens, teenagers and some young women,human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine prevents about 70 percent (7 out of 10) types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. HPV vaccine also prevents most cases of genital warts.
Key Risk Factors for Cancer of the Cervix:

having or having had a sexually transmitted disease (STD), especially humanpapillomavirus (HPV) infection
having had repeated or chronic infections of the female organs
becoming sexually active before 18 years of age
having, or having had, many sexual partners
having one or more sexual partners who has, or has had, many sexual partners
engaging in unprotected sex
having a history of cervical dysplasia (abnormal cells in the cervix on a pap test)
having, or having had, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection or genital warts, the cause of most cases of cervical cancer See discussion of HPV vaccine controversy below
cigarette smoking
failure to have regular Pap tests
Generally, being more than 40 years of age

Key Warning Signals for Cancer of the Cervix:

abnormal vaginal bleeding
any unusual vaginal discharge
a discharge with a bad odor
frequent discharges
a persistent and heavy discharge

Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer

If a woman has a symptom of possible cervical cancer, or a Pap test result that suggests precancerous cells or cancer, she should see a doctor who specializes in treating cervical cancer at once. This will almost always be an obstetrician/gynecologist (Ob/Gyn), and the following procedures may be done to make a diagnosis.

No matter what is found, it is often a good idea to get a second opinion from a doctor with experience in treating cervical cancer.

Pap Smear or Pap Test

The Pap test is the primary cancer-screening tool for cervical cancer. It can save a woman’s life by finding cancer of the cervix early. The Pap test can also find abnormal cells before they become cancer cells. When this condition, called cervical dysplasia, is treated at once, cancer of the cervix can be prevented. All females above 18 years of age who are, or have been sexually active, should have a Pap test.

It’s not enough to get a Pap test. It’s very important to get the result for the following reasons:

  • It may lead to treatment that can prevent cancer of the cervix,
  • It may show cancer early enough for life-saving treatment, and
  • It may show treatable infection or inflammation.

How Often to Get a Pap Test

Women 21 to 29 years old should have a Pap test every 3 years, and women over 30 years old should have both a Pap test and a HPV (human papilloma virus) test every 3 years. However, since every woman’s situation is different, it’s important that every woman consult her doctor about how often to be tested.

Since women with HIV have a much greater risk of developing cervical cancer, CDC recommends that women with HIV have two Pap tests 6 months apart, and if both are negative, they should then have a Pap test every year.

Key Tests for Diagnosing Cervical Cancer

Colposcopy: The doctor uses a colposcope, which has a magnifying lens, to look at the cells of the vagina and cervix in detail. The colposcope makes it easier to see the tissues.

Biopsy: The doctor removes tissue for examination with a microscope, looking for precancerous cells or cancer cells.

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