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Cervical Cancer – Facts and Prevention

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. This year alone, approximately 13,240 women in the United States will be diagnosed with this invasive cancer. If you are a woman between the ages of 21-65, getting screened regularly is important – it could save your life.

Cathy McAfee, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner at Keystone Community Outreach, shares some important information about this disease in today’s Take Care article.

What are the symptoms and signs of cervical cancer?

Most women with pre-cancer show no symptoms. Symptoms usually don’t begin until the cancer cells become invasive and spread into nearby tissue. This is why regular screenings are so important.

When symptoms do occur, they can include: abnormal vaginal bleeding (such as bleeding between periods, after sex, after menopause, after a pelvic exam, etc.), menstrual periods which are longer or heavier than usual, an unusual or increased vaginal discharge, pain during sex and persistent pelvic and/or back pain.

These symptoms can sometimes be caused by things other than cervical cancer (such as an infection), but if you experience any of the signs above it’s important to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible. The earlier the cancer is caught, the less time it has to advance and spread.

If diagnosed, what are the treatment options?

Treatment options depend on multiple factors including a woman’s stage of cancer, reactions to possible side effects and her overall health. Treatments include surgery (removal of the cancerous growth, a hysterectomy or other surgical procedures), radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

What’s the outlook for someone who has been diagnosed?

Survival rates depend on multiple factors, including the stage of the cancer when the patient was diagnosed. When detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate is 92%. If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue, organ or lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 57%, and if it has spread to a distant part of the body, the rate drops to 17%. This is just another reason to pay attention to the signs your body gives you, and to have regular visits with your healthcare provider.

How can women protect themselves from this disease?

The answer to protecting yourself from cervical cancer and avoiding the pain and heartache of this preventable disease is to be proactive! It can most often be prevented by having regular screenings. There are also steps you can take to lessen your chances of developing pre-cancer. These steps include: delaying your first sexual intercourse until your late teens or older, limiting your number of sexual partners, avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners and not smoking.

Another way to be proactive is to receive the HPV vaccine if you are age 45 or younger. This vaccine helps prevent cervical cancers caused by HPV. Talk with your healthcare provider about the appropriate schedule of vaccination because it may vary depending on your age and vaccine availability. If you are a parent, this vaccine can be given to both boys and girls starting in their adolescent years.

If you are a woman who is due for a cervical cancer screening, I hope that you will make time to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider as part of your New Year’s resolution. It could save your life!


This article contains general information only and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or care by a qualified health care provider.