Be Part of the Cervical Cancer Success Story: Get Screened
Cervical cancer is treated most effectively when it is diagnosed before it causes symptoms. In its early stages, cervical cancer usually doesn’t show any symptoms.
In more advanced stages, symptoms may include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse or between menstrual cycles
- Painful urination, sometimes with blood
- Bloody, heavy or watery vaginal discharge, often foul smelling
- Longer or abnormally heavy periods
- Weight or appetite loss
- Back pain
The chief risk factor for cervical cancer is contracting human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted disease (STD). Women who have had multiple sexual partners and who started having intercourse before they were 16 years of age increase their chances for getting HPV. The disease has also been linked to smoking, and having other STDs also increases the odds of getting the virus. Women who haven’t had regular pelvic exams or Pap smears, which can detect cervical cancer in its early stages, also run a higher risk for developing the disease. A vaccine against HPV is recommended by the CDC for pre-teen girls and boys, as well as women up to 45 years in age.
There are two main tests used to screen for cervical cancer, both of which are done in a doctor’s office or clinic:
The Pap test can find early changes in cells that can lead to cervical cancer. A sample of cells are collected from the cervix for testing. The test is often done at the same time as a pelvic exam. If cancer is suspected, the doctor will conduct a pelvic exam and remove tissue for a biopsy.
The HPV test looks for certain strains of HPV that have been linked to cervical cancer. It’s done by testing a sample of cells from the cervix. The HPV test can be done by itself or using the same cell sample collected for a Pap test.
You can be part of the cervical cancer success story. Follow these three steps, and you can nearly prevent cervical cancer:
- If you are between the ages of 21 and 29, have a Pap test every three years.
- If you are between the ages of 30 and 65, have a Pap test every three years or a Pap test and HPV test (a screening test for the human papillomavirus) every five years. (Women older than age 65 who have had normal test results for the last 10 years and are not at high risk for cervical cancer should stop screening.)
- Talk with your healthcare provider about the best approach to your future cervical cancer screenings given your age and health history. According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is more common in women in age 40 and older.
Cervical cancer, or cancer of the cervix (the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina), used to be a leading cause of cancer death in women. But now, thanks to increased use and availability of the Pap test, deaths from cervical cancer have gone down by more than 50 percent.
The Pap test, although simple, packs a powerful punch in just a few minutes time. It not only identifies changes in the cells of your cervix that could develop into cancer, but it can also identify cancer in its earliest stages--when it’s the most treatable. Today, most women diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer have never had a cervical cancer screening.
The HPV test is a newer line of defense. It screens for the high-risk types of the human papillomavirus, known to cause cervical cancer. HPV infection is actually pretty common. It’s spread through sexual contact, but most women’s bodies can fight off the infection without any effects. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, but they rarely lead to cervical cancer.
Both the Pap and HPV test can be done together. Your healthcare provider simply takes a small amount of cells from your cervix using a swab or small brush. The sample is then put in a special liquid preservative that is sent to a lab for analysis.
What Are My Test Results?
One of the most important things to remember about your Pap and HPV tests is to learn the results. Your healthcare provider should tell you when they’re ready and how to get them. Some offices will even call you with your test results. But to be safe, be sure to ask when and how your cervical cancer screening results will be given to you.
These simple tests have saved many women’s lives. Make cervical cancer screening a part of your wellness plan.
Learn more about advanced gynecological cancer treatment at Franciscan Health.