Cervical cancer affects almost 13,000 women in the United States, and that number is increasing every year. This disease can creep up on women with very few warning signs. It is therefore imperative to be informed about the causes, signs, and treatment options, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent cervical cancer.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be transferred vaginally through sexual contact. HPV can cause cervical dysplasia, an abnormal growth of cells in the cervix.
Women with early stages of cervical cancer may notice irregular bleeding or discharge from the vagina. Sex may become painful or result in bleeding. These signs are very subtle and could be due to other causes, so getting a regular pelvic screening is important. For cervical cancer that is more advanced, women may experience pain in the leg, back, or pelvic areas, urinary blockage, or in extreme cases, a leakage of urine or stool into the vagina due to a fistula.
The Pap test is the first step to find abnormal precancerous cells that could lead to cervical cancer. The Pap test involves a doctor scraping a sample of cells from the cervix. The sample is tested for abnormal changes. If abnormal changes are found, further testing is done to see if the cells are precancerous. It is recommended that women regularly receive pap tests to detect changes in the cervix before it develops into something more serious.
If precancerous cells are found on the cervix, the doctor may remove them using a loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) or cryosurgery to prevent further growth. In cases where cancer develops, more invasive methods need to be done. Surgery can remove the cancer if it is in a good location, although this can affect the woman’s ability to have children later on. Radiation in the vaginal cavity uses concentrated x-rays to kill the cancer, and chemotherapy is a medicinal method used to kill cancer cells.
Women under 26 can get the HPV vaccine to reduce their chances of getting the infection that can lead to cervical cancer. Even using condoms, HPV can still be transferred from partner to partner during sex, but condoms significantly reduce the risk.
Watch for the signs and take preventive measures to protect yourself from HPV. The best way to watch for cervical cancer is to get regular Pap tests from your OBGYN. The gynecologists at Women’s Medical Associates of Nashville can help make your Pap test as comfortable as possible, and will provide any further information you need to know about cervical cancer.