Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects women, with approximately 12,200 women being diagnosed in 2010. However, the rate of fatality from cervical cancer has dropped dramatically, thanks to regular exams and pap smears.
Understanding what puts you at risk and the signs of cervical cancer, in addition to regular pap smears, is the best way to prevent it from progressing. Here are some things to understand about this type of cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
All cancers are the same in that they begin when cells in a certain part of your body grow more rapidly or out of control. With cervical cancer, cancer starts in your cervix but has the ability to spread quickly to other parts of your body. This is a common type of cancer, but it is also preventable thanks to vaccines and important screening tests.
When you get your pap smear every year or so, your doctor is testing you for cancer at the same time. This allows them to catch it early or know if you have HPV, which can lead to cancer in some cases.
Types of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer comes in two primary forms – squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. These are two different types of cells, with typically just one type of cell being involved in cancer, but in some cases, both can exist.
With squamous cell carcinoma, cancer begins in the cells that line the outer section of the cervix. This is the more common type, and what doctors see in most cervical cancer cases. There is also adenocarcinoma, much less common, but begins in the cervical canal.
Who is at Risk?
While any woman with a cervix can get cervical cancer, some women are at a higher risk. If any of these apply to you, make sure you are getting regular visits with your doctor for a pap smear or other screenings.
- You have HPV or other STIs – HPV greatly increases your risk for cervical cancer, so anyone with this infection needs to have pap smears at least once a year. If you have other sexually transmitted infections, those increase your risk for HPV as well.
- You have multiple sex partners – Having multiple sex partners increases your risk for HPV and other STIs.
- You have a weakened immune system – Anyone with a weakened immune system is at a higher risk for cervical cancer and other types of cancers.
- You are a smoker – Smoking cigarettes can increase your risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma-related cervical cancer.
Are There Any Symptoms?
Cervical cancer doesn’t have many symptoms, though there are a few things you might notice. For one thing, if you have irregular menstrual periods or cycles, bleeding between periods, or cramping that seems much more severe than it used to be, that could potentially be a symptom. Some women also experience symptoms like nausea, weight loss, or fatigue, without any other causes of these occurrences.
What About Treatments?
The available treatment for this type of cancer will depend on how far it has progressed, and if it is affecting any of your other reproductive organs. But generally speaking, treatments might include surgery to remove tumors from your cervix, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Getting a hysterectomy to remove your cervix and other reproductive organs is often recommended as well.
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