January, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month



Recent reports estimate there are currently 1,660,290 different types of cancers in the United States and over 12 million worldwide. Cancer remains as the second leading cause of death in the U.S.—accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. Specifically, cervical cancer currently affects nearly 250,000 women in the United States and it is the culprit in over 4,000 deaths in the last year.
 

What is cervical cancer?
 

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that forms in tissues of the cervix—an organ connected to the uterus and vagina. Symptoms may only sometimes be detected through a pap smear because of its slowly progressive nature. This cancer is predominantly caused by human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
 
HPVs are a group of more than 150 related viruses. More than 40 of these viruses can be easily spread by direct skin contact through sexual interaction. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.—over half of those who are sexually active are infected with one or more HPV types at some point in their lives.

Risk Factors

 

·      HPV infection
·      Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer.
·      The immune system plays a significant role in controlling risks.
·      Chlamydia infection can cause pelvic inflammation, leading to infertility.
·      Those who don’t consume enough amounts of fruits and vegetables.
·      The chances of cervical cancer doubles in women who take birth control pills.
·      Those who have had three or more full-term pregnancies.
·      Girls younger than 17 years when they had their first full-term pregnancy.
·      Women who were exposed to Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in utero.
·      Risks are 2 to 3 times higher in women whose mother or sister had the cancer.
·      Click here for a more detailed list.
 

Signs and Symptoms
 

Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding. The bleeding may occur between regular menstrual periods—which may last longer or heavier than usual—or after sexual intercourse, hygienic cleansing, or a pelvic exam. Bleeding after menopause or increased vaginal discharge may also be symptoms.
 

Prevention Methods  
 

As with many prevention methods, the best ways to decreasing risks is by altering perilous, unhealthy habits and avoiding any factors aforementioned, e.g., smoking and unhealthy dieting. Understandably, some risk factors, such as genetics, are unavoidable. The American Cancer Society recommend women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21, and women aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years. Here’s a direct link to the detailed guide cancer.org.
 

Diagnosis and Treatment
 

When symptoms of cervical cancer arise, the doctor may recommend getting lab tests, a cervical exam and/or a tissue sample. The option for treating the patient is contingent upon the stage of the disease—which describes its size, depth of invasion and how far it has spread. Treatment is never definitive and may involve multiple specialists and procedures, e.g., surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
 
The American Cancer Society reports 12,340 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year—with Hispanic women being at higher risk, followed by African-Americans, Asians and whites (American Indians and Alaskan natives are with lower risk). Although the disease has declined dramatically by 70% between 1955 and 1992—due to the increased use of the Pap test, 4,030 women are estimated to die from cervical cancer in the upcoming year. Today, there is still no known cure for cancer, but many have joined the battle by funding research to help make cancer history. For ways to get involved, visit www.cancer.org/involved.
 
Sources: cancer.org, cancer.gov