About 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually.
Cervical cancer is preventable in many Western countries given the availability of screening tests and vaccine that protects against infection from human papillomavirus.
With early detection, cervical cancer is highly treatable and is linked with long survival. It is essential for women to have a better understanding of this condition particularly those with increased risks such as women who are above 30 years old, those who smoke, those who use birth control pills for at least five years, those with several sexual partners and those who have at least three children.
Cervical cancer usually does not cause signs and symptoms in its early stage. However, advanced cervical cancer can cause abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding after sex, in between menstrual periods or after menopause. The condition can also be characterized by pain during sexual contact and pain in the pelvis or lower belly.
It can sometimes take several years before normal cells found in the cervix can turn into cancer cells. Doctors generally find the abnormal cells through a Pap test, which is at the moment the most effective and most reliable of cancer screening test.
Women 26 years old and younger can get the HPV vaccine to reduce their risk of cervical cancer. The vaccine provides protection against two types of HPV that causes cervical cancer.
Women who are at least 21 years old should get regular Pap tests. However, women who are 30 years old or older are advised to have an HPV test and a Pap test.
Women who get normal results from these tests have low changes of getting cervical cancer in the next four years. Those who get abnormal results may need a biopsy and other tests.
Treatment for the condition can include chemotherapy, which uses special medicines to shrink or kill the cancerous cells; radiation therapy, which uses high energy rays to kill cancer; surgery, which involves doctors removing the cancer tissue in an operation; or a combination. The choice largely depends on the size of the tumor and whether the cancer has already spread and if the patient still has plans to get pregnant someday.