Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix, the portion of a woman’s body that connects the uterus to the vagina.
One unique thing about cervical cancer is that it’s nearly always caused by a virus known as the human papillomavirus, or HPV. A vaccine is available to prevent HPV infection.
Prevention and Screening
Because cervical cancer is rarely detectable in its early stages, regular screening tests are a valuable tool. The most common screening test for cervical cancer is a Pap test, in which a sample of cervical cells is collected and tested in a laboratory for cancerous cells and cells that could become cancer if not treated. If a larger sample is needed for testing, these cells may be removed in a procedure called a biopsy.
Another method for preventing cervical cancer is to be vaccinated against HPV before becoming sexually active. The vaccine, which protects the body against the virus that causes cervical cancer, is effective only before someone becomes infected with HPV. The vaccine is recommended for females and males between 9 and 26 years of age.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
In its early stages, cervical cancer usually shows now symptoms. As it progresses and the tumor grows larger, however, unusual bleeding is the primary symptom. This can include bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods or even after menopause. In addition, regular menstrual periods may be heavier or longer-lasting than before. Other notable symptoms of cervical cancer can include pain, particularly during sex, or increased vaginal discharge.
Cervical cancer that is diagnosed early is considered highly treatable. Surgery might be necessary to remove a cancerous tumor from the cervix. Some women choose to have a hysterectomy, which involves removing the cervix and uterus, but this is not always required. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy, treatments designed to kill cancerous cells, are two other possibilities. In some instances, radiation therapy or chemotherapy treatments might be needed after surgery to eradicate the cancer from any surrounding tissues.
SOURCES: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Should women 65 and older continue cervical cancer screenings?