10/08/17 — Cancer edition 2017: From the doctor ---- Cervical cancer

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Cancer edition 2017: From the doctor ---- Cervical cancer

By Dr. I-Wen Chang
Published in News on October 8, 2017 4:03 PM

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Dr. I-Wen Chang Southeastern Medical Oncology Center

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina to the upper part of the uterus. The  uterus  is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

Cervical cancer is highly preventable in most Western countries because  screening tests  and a  vaccine  to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infections are available. When cervical cancer is found early, it is highly treatable and associated with long survival and good quality of life.

Almost all  cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV),  a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. There are many types of HPV. Some HPV types can cause changes on a woman's cervix that can lead to cervical cancer over time, while other types can cause genital or skin warts.

HPV  is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives. HPV usually causes no symptoms so you can't tell that you have it. For most women, the human body clears the viral infection on its own; however, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer.

Other things can increase your risk of cervical cancer--


• Having  HIV  or another condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.

• Having several sexual partners.

Two tests can help prevent cervical cancer--

• The  Pap test  (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.

• The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause these cell changes.

The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests starting at age 21.

If your  Pap test results  are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. For that reason, your doctor may tell you that you will not need another Pap test for as long as three years. If you are 30 years old or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. If  both test results  are normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait five years to have your next Pap test. But you should still go to the doctor regularly for a checkup.

For women aged 21 to 65, it is important to continue getting a Pap test as directed by your doctor--even if you think you are too old to have a child or are not having sex anymore. However, if you are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for a non-cancerous condition, like fibroids, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test anymore.

Getting an HPV Vaccine

The  HPV vaccine  protects against the types of  HPV  that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.

Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.

Types of Treatment

Cervical cancer is treated in several ways. It depends on the kind of cervical cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

• Surgery:  Doctors remove cancer tissue in an operation.

• Chemotherapy:  Using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.

• Radiation:  Using high-energy rays to kill the cancer.

Prevention of the disease is paramount as early stage cervical cancer is highly curable.

** The above article is an excerpt from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (cdc.gov).