Surviving Cervical Cancer Requires Early Detection and Excellent Care
What is cervical cancer?
Originating in the cells that line the cervix (the narrow, lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vaginal canal), cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women around the world. But because this disease develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.
In fact, deaths from cervical cancer in the U.S. continue to decline year after year, thanks to Pap screening. This quick and simple test can detect changes in cervical cells before cancer develops… and reveal cancer in its early stages, when it is most curable.
What puts women at risk for cervical cancer?
The most common risk factor for cervical cancer is one that women cannot control: age. Statistics show that about half of the women diagnosed with this type of cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55. Roughly 20 percent of cervical cancer diagnoses are made in women older than 65, which is why it’s important for many women to continue cervical cancer screenings until at least age 70. Your doctor can suggest what’s best for you based on your unique risk profile and history.
Key risk factors include:
- Family history of cervical cancer
- Sexual history
- Being overweight
- Having multiple full-term pregnancies
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives
- Weakened immunity
The cause of most cervical cancers (99%) is the human papillomavirus (HPV). But, of the more than 100 different types of HPV, most are classified as low risk and do not cause cervical cancer. On the other end of the spectrum are high-risk HPV types, which may trigger cervical cell abnormalities (cancer). More than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases can be attributed to two types of the virus: HPV-16 and HPV-18, also widely known as high-risk HPV types.
Detecting cervical cancer begins with regular screenings
When caught in its early stages, cervical cancer is very curable. Pap screenings can reveal abnormalities in the cervix, so they should be part of every woman’s gynecologic routine starting at age 21.
If an abnormal result is returned on your Pap test, your doctor will likely order more tests, such as a colposcopy, to check for abnormal cells. If abnormal cells are present, a sample of cervix cells (biopsy) is collected and sent to a pathology lab to confirm or rule out the presence of cancer. If cancer is confirmed, more tests — such as CT and MRI scans — can be performed to determine the cancer’s stage. Staging (categorized from 0 to IV) describes the size, extent of invasion and spread of the cancer, giving it a key role in helping your doctor create the most effective treatment plan for you.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Changes in precancerous cervical cells, and even early stage cancers of the cervix, typically do not cause symptoms. All the more reason to get regularly screened through Pap and HPV tests! Signs of cervical cancer in a more advanced stage can include:
- Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Vaginal discharge
Although these can be signs of noncancerous conditions, don’t ignore them. Any one of them could be cancer that, as it grows, could significantly reduce the effectiveness of treatment.
Treating cervical cancer
The stage of the disease at the time of your diagnosis is a key factor in how your doctor will approach treatment. Other factors that can limit or expand your treatment options are your age, your health, whether you are planning pregnancy, and more. So, when weighing your options, consider every risk and benefit down to the finest detail. Rest assured that your RCCA team will be here to answer your questions and help you feel confident about your options, which could include:
Keep in mind that your plan of attack could involve more than one kind of therapy. This means that other specialists will join your cancer care team, such as gynecologic, radiation and medical oncologists.
RCCA’s personalized, caring approach to helping you beat cervical cancer
Although you’re not alone in facing cervical cancer, no other woman shares your unique combination of health status, lifestyle, family situation and age. For these and many other reasons, your care at RCCA is equally unique. From your first appointment, through treatment, while managing side effects and during post-treatment care, your RCCA team will be dedicated to your very individual journey back to good health.