Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus in the human female reproductive system. It connects the vagina to the uterine cavity.
Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. It is also highly curable when found and treated early.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30.
Risk factors that increases a woman’s chance for HPV infection include having multiple sex partners, having partners who had multiple sex partners, having started sex at an early age and other factors such as cigarette smoking, long-term use of birth control pills and having three or more full term pregnancies.
Signs and Symptoms
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain and bleeding during sex.
The 3 main types of treatment are surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Cervical cancers that have spread beyond the cervix are generally treated with surgery or radiation, often followed by chemotherapy.
- Reduce the risk of HPV infection
- Vaccines are available against certain strains of HPV. The vaccine is given in a series of 3 shots and can be given to girls beginning at age 9. To be most effective, it should be given before a woman becomes sexually active.
- Use condoms during sex.
- Limit your number of sexual partners.
- Regular screening with the Pap smear and for some women combined with the HPV test. These tests can detect pre-cancers, which can be treated to prevent cervical cancer before it develops.
- Ideally, women should start getting a Pap smear 3 years from first sexual contact.
- Women ages 21 to 29 should get a Pap smear every 3 years. HPV testing maybe recommended during follow-up of an abnormal Pap smear.
- For ages 30-65, preferred way to screen is with a Pap smear combined with an HPV test every 5 years. Another option is a Pap smear alone every 3 years.
- For age over 65, screening may stop if Pap smear results have been normal for several years.
- Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still have a Pap smear regularly.