January is Cervical Health Awareness Month
Cervical Health Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity. It’s also a major cause of cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. Not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it’s found early. That’s why it’s important for women to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, such as bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause.
Pain in the lower belly or pelvis.
Pain during sex.
Vaginal discharge that isn’t normal.
Cervical cancer risk factors:
Pregnancy: Women who have had three or more full-term pregnancies, or who had their first full-term pregnancy before age 17, are twice as likely to get cervical cancer.
Family history: Women with a sister or mother who had cervical cancer are two to three times more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Sexual history: Certain types of sexual behavior are considered risk factors for cervical cancer and HPV infection. These include: sex before age 18, sex with multiple partners and sex with someone who has had multiple partners. Studies also show a link between chlamydia infection and cervical cancer.
Smoking: A woman who smokes doubles her risk of cervical cancer.
Oral contraceptive use: Women who take oral contraceptives for more than five years have an increased risk of cervical cancer, but this risk returns to normal within a few years after the pills are stopped.
Weakened immune system: In most people with healthy immune systems, the HPV virus clears itself from the body within 12-18 months. However, people with HIV or other health conditions or who take medications that limit the body’s ability to fight off infection have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women whose mothers took DES, a drug given to some women to prevent miscarriage between 1940 and 1971, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
HPV: Though HPV causes cancer, having HPV does not mean you will get cancer. The majority of women who contract HPV clear the virus or have treatment so the abnormal cells are removed. HPV is a skin infection, spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the virus.
Additional facts about HPV:
There are more than 100 types of HPV, 30-40 of which are sexually transmitted.
Of these, at least 15 are high-risk HPV strains that can cause cervical cancer. The others cause no symptoms or genital warts.
Up to 80 percent of women will contract HPV in their lifetime. Men get HPV, too, but there is no test for them.
A healthy immune system will usually clear the HPV virus before there is a symptom, including the high-risk types of HPV.
Only a small percentage of women with high-risk HPV develop cervical cancer.
The American Cancer Society guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women follow these guidelines to help find cervical cancer early. Following these guidelines can also find pre-cancers, which can be treated to keep cervical cancer from forming.
All women should begin cervical cancer testing (screening) at age 21. Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group (it may be used as a part of follow-up for an abnormal Pap test).
Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This is called co-testing and should continue until age 65.
Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
Women who are at high risk of cervical cancer because of a suppressed immune system (for example from HIV infection, organ transplant, or long term steroid use) or because they were exposed to DES in utero may need to be screened more often. They should follow the recommendations of their health care team.
Women over 65 years of age who have had regular screening in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screening as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers (like CIN2 or CIN3) found in the last 20 years. Women with a history of CIN2 or CIN3 should continue to have testing for at least 20 years after the abnormality was found.
Women who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening (such as Pap tests and HPV tests), unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical pre-cancer (or cancer). Women who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix (called a supra-cervical hysterectomy) should continue cervical cancer screening according to the guidelines above.
Women of any age should NOT be screened every year by any screening method
Women who have been vaccinated against HPV should still follow these guidelines.
The American Cancer Society guidelines for early detection of cervical cancer do not apply to women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, cervical pre-cancer, or HIV infection. These women should have follow-up testing and cervical cancer screening as recommended by their healthcare team.
*Routine Pap testing is the best way to detect abnormal changes to the cervix before they develop into cancer. Because of this, women who do not regularly have a Pap test are at increased risk of developing the disease. Call to schedule your screening today at Pinehurst Surgical Women’s Care Center at (910) 295-0290 or visit us online at www.pinehurstsurgical.com.
To Learn More visit: www.cancer.org