Cervical Cancer is, worldwide, the third most common type of cancer in women. Currently, cervical cancer is less prominent in the United States than in other countries thanks to routine screenings and pap smears. While this is a positive statistic, there is still room for improvement.
Cervical cancer occurs when an abnormal growth develops in the uterine cervix which is the lowest portion of the woman’s uterus (womb). This growth then begins to invade other tissues or organs of the body. Some factors that have been linked to a higher likelihood of developing cervical cancer include: smoking, the use of oral contraceptives , early sexual contact and multiple sexual partners. While use or engagement in each of these things increases the woman’s risk, the most prominent cause, linked to two-thirds of cervical cancer cases remains: the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). As defined by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Human Papillomavirus is, “…one of the most common causes of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world. Health experts estimate there are more cases of genital HPV infection than any other STI in the United States.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 6.2 cases to be reported annually. As a preventative measure, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed a Vaccination for women ages 12-26 which is likely to prevent certain types of HPV that could lead to cervical cancer.
While pain is not commonly associated with early stages of this type of cancer , some symptoms may include vaginal bleeding outside of menstruation, or after menopause, and/or a possible abnormal vaginal discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms it is important that you speak with your health care provider right away. While all cancers are much easier to treat upon early detection, cervical cancer starts to develop slowly, beginning as dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition. If a Pap smear detects this pre-cancerous stage, it is 100% treatable. Although you or your doctor may decide to set up more frequent visits due to your individual situation, the US Guide to Clinical Preventive Services recommends a repeat Pap smear at least every 3 years. Depending on the results of this Pap smear, your doctor may next recommend further testing. Some secondary tests which are commonly signified range from a colonoscopy, in which the cervix is examined more closely, a biopsy in which pieces of tissue are removed surgically, or even a cone biopsy in which a sample of the effective tissue is obtained from the cervix.
There are a wide range of treatments for cervical cancer, the use of which one depending on the size of the tumor and the stage of the cancer. Further considerations also include the age of the woman, her general health and whether or not she desires to have children. Beginning with some of the least invasive surgical procedures, early stages of cancer may be removed via a LEEP (Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure). In this procedure, electricity is used to remove the abnormal tissue. Cryotherapy is a surgery in which the abnormal cells are frozen. Also, laser therapy, is another common procedure using a light to burn away the abnormal tissue. For those women who no longer desire children and find their cancer contained in their uterus, having not yet spread any further a hysterectomy is often performed. If the cancer has spread to a much more advanced level, a radical hysterectomy may be used to remove the uterus, the internal lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina. Finally, in cases deemed the most serious and extreme, a “pelvic exenteration” may be used to remove all organs of the pelvis including the rectum and the bladder.
Again, as proven by the American statistics, regular Pap smears are critical and effective in the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer. It is far less expensive, far less invasive, and far less traumatic to receive a regular Pap smear than it is to rather than to avoid the brief discomfort or inconvenience of this check-up only to be later faced with a major surgery and threat to your life.