Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. Also known as the womb, the uterus is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. The cervix connects the upper part of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
Each year more than 350 North Carolina women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and over 100 die from the condition. The majority of these deaths occur in women over age 45.
Some warning signs of cervical cancer are:
Changes and early cancers of the cervix generally do not cause pain or other symptoms. Don’t wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor. Infections or other health problems may also cause these symptoms. Only a doctor can tell for sure.
Research has found several risk factors that may increase your chances of getting cervical cancer. Risk factors that increase risk of cervical cancer include:
Most cervical cancer can be prevented. There are 2 ways to prevent this disease. The first way is to prevent pre-cancers. This is best done by avoiding risk factors.
Young women can delay starting to have sex until they are older. Women of all ages can protect against HPV by having few sexual partners and not having sex with people who have had many partners.
There are now vaccines that can protect people against HPV. So far, vaccines that protect against certain types of HPV have been shown to work in preventing most genital warts. Right now vaccines are only used to prevent, not treat, an HPV infection. For more information see the CDC’s HPV Vaccine page.
The Pap test is a quick and simple, generally painless test that can detect abnormal cells and changes in the cervix. The Pap test is done in a doctor’s office or clinic during a pelvic exam.
Most deaths from cervical cancer could be avoided if women had regular checkups with the Pap test.
Women should begin having Pap tests after they reach age 21. Most women should have a Pap test at least once every 3-5 years.
Women should talk to their doctor about when to begin having Pap tests, how often to have them and when to stop having them.
If a woman has one or more symptoms or a Pap test that suggest cancer, the doctor will suggest further tests to diagnose or rule out cancer. These include:
There are three treatment options for cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer: Basic Info. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on October 2, 2013 from www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/.
What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Cervix. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved August 2015 from the National Cancer Institute.