Our team wants everyone to stay aware of their health, so we gathered the following guide to keep you informed for Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cancer happens when abnormal cells in the body divide uncontrollably and end up destroying body tissue. Cervical cancer is when this uncontrollable growth happens in the cervix, which connects the vagina and the upper part of the uterus.
The leading cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD), with more than 200 types that can affect the body, and about 40 of those affect genital areas. HPV can be harmless and go away on its own, but if the body struggles to get rid of the infection, it can turn normal cells into the abnormal cells that cause cancer.
Patients can get the human papillomavirus through:
- Any skin-to-skin contact with the genital area
- Vaginal, anal, or oral sex
- Sharing sex toys
Many are unaware when they have HPV since it does not cause many symptoms, aside from genital warts in some cases. Cervical cancer is much the same in that there are not many symptoms, but patients with cervical cancer can experience the following:
- Pain in the pelvis area
- Painful intercourse
- Abnormal, irregular, or heavy menstruation or spotting
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Weight loss
Like other cancers in the body, treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
- Surgery can be conducted when the cancer tissue can be removed.
- Chemotherapy utilizes medicine to shrink or kill cancer cells. The medication can be taken through pills or injections into the vein; sometimes, both methods are required.
- Radiation therapy kills cancer cells through high-energy rays.
The treatment given to the patient will depend on the stage of cervical cancer; in some cases, patients will need more than one type of treatment. Typically, when the cancer is in its early stages, surgery and chemotherapy are combined, and radiation and chemo are used for later stages.
A trusted medical team will help create the best treatment plan for the patient and their condition. This team may include a gynecologist, a gynecologic oncologist, a radiation oncologist, and a medical oncologist. It’s important for patients to discuss all options available so that they can meet their goals and understand the side effects.
Reducing Your Risk
As we mentioned before, HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer, and it is possible to prevent developing it. Regular screenings that include HPV and Pap tests with a primary care physician or gynecologist will help patients monitor their health. Patients should start these screenings no later than age 21, and they should schedule them annually.
There is also a vaccine for human papillomavirus that protects against the HPV types that cause cervical cancer, and it’s recommended to anyone, regardless of gender. The vaccine can be given as early as age nine, and in most cases, anyone older than 26 should not receive the vaccination, as it doesn’t provide as much benefit. Sometimes, patients aged 27-45 can talk to their doctor to receive the vaccine.
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent time to remind patients of the importance of looking after their sexual health. Since it’s at the beginning of a new year, it means there is plenty of time to schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Hillcroft Physicians P.A. has its door open for everyone, regardless of age and gender, and we offer women’s health services to complete screenings for cervical health. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.