The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) is raising awareness for women with or at risk for cervical cancer and Human papillomavirus (HPV). January is dedicated to helping women become educated on cervical health and disease risks and prevention.
Cervical cancer is cancer that starts in the cervix. The cervix is the narrow opening into the uterus from the vagina. More than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and more than 4,000 of them will die. Cervical cancer is one of the most preventible types of cancer.
Cervical cancer does not typically cause symptoms until it reaches a more advanced stage. At this time you may experience abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, heavy unusual discharge, increased urination, and painful urination. Notify your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a skin infecting virus that has more than 100 different strains. Genital HPV can cause genital warts or abnormal cell changes on the cervix. The NCCC tells us that approximately 14 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV occur in the U.S. each year, and they estimate nearly 79 million people are currently infected. Most HPV does not cause symptoms and many do not know they are infected. The majority of HPV is harmless but it is important to note that it can cause abnormal cell changes on the cervix and can cause cancer.
The good news is that Cervical cancer is completely preventible. Cervical cancer is detected through regular Pap test, and HPV testing. If precancerous cells are detected and treated early you can stop cancer before it really starts. Cervical cancer takes 10 to 20 years or more to develop, so even though you may not be sexually active you still need to visit your GYN. Genital warts caused by HPV will not turn into cancer.
The best you can do is avoid contact with HPV. This may prove a daunting task, considering the amount of people who don’t know they are actually infected. Condom use can provide some protection and lower the risks of HPV transmission. Don’t smoke. Smoking doubles a women’s risk of developing cervical cancer. Vaccines are available to protect against some HPV infections but will not treat a preexisting infection. The American Cancer Society recommends all women begin cervical cancer screening at age 21 and have a Pap test every 3 years thereafter. These guidelines offer the best chance to have cervical cancer found in its early stages when treatment is most successful.