Cervical Cancer 101

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 10.27.28 AMWith proper screening and early detection, cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to treat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Manage your cervical cancer risk by learning more about this preventable disease.

The National Institutes of Health reports that nearly all cervical cancer cases come from a strain of human papillomavirus (HPV) that is spread through sexual contact. There are multiple strains of HPV, which can cause warts and other skin abnormalities. HPV is highly contagious, and most adults are exposed to it at some point during their lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society. In most cases, the virus eventually clears up on its own. When the virus remains in your body, however, it can lead to cervical cancer.

Prevention: The First Step to Wellness

The best way to prevent HPV is to receive the HPV vaccine, which protects the body from the particular strains that lead to cervical cancer. The CDC recommends girls and boys receive this three-shot vaccination series between the ages of 11 and 12. Women and men who didn’t have the vaccination during their preteen or teen years should get it before their 26th birthday.

Other cervical cancer contributors include smoking, obesity and a family history of cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Screenings

Women with early-stage cervical cancer rarely experience symptoms, making the disease difficult to spot. When symptoms—such as irregular bleeding or abnormally heavy periods, fatigue and pelvic pain—occur, they typically indicate advanced disease that is more difficult to treat.

Pap smear screenings, which involve removing a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix, help identify cellular changes that may develop into cancer. Women between the ages of 21 and 65 should receive Pap smears every three years. If your Pap smear is abnormal, you may need additional screenings. An HPV test is also available to determine if you carry the virus and can be done in conjunction with a pap smear.

A Glimpse at Cervical Cancer Treatment

If test results indicate precancerous or cancerous cells, a variety of treatments are available. Precancerous and cancerous tissues that have not spread to other parts of the body can often be removed using laser surgery or cryosurgery. These techniques are advantageous for women who want to preserve fertility. More advanced stages of cervical cancer may require surgery to remove the cervix or reproductive organs, as well as radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

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