In 2018, over 13,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer. And while that number may seem jarring at first, it’s worth noting that the incidence of cervical cancer dropped over 50% since 1975.
Clearly, we have made advances in cervical cancer detection, screening, and treatment processes. But at Augusta Oncology we know that prevention is key, and our first line of defense against this terrible disease is still the knowledge with which we arm ourselves.
This cervical cancer awareness month, and we encourage you to take some time to learn more about cervical cancer, a disease that claimed over 4,000 lives in 2018.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
The lowest part of a woman’s uterus is known as the cervix, and the cervix connects the uterus to the vagina.
When a woman has cervical cancer, it means that the cells in the cervix begin to multiply and grow in an unusual way. Instead of staying in the cervix, these cells move through other parts of the body.
If left unchecked, cervical cancer can move to deep tissues of the cervix and eventually metastasize to places like the liver, the bladder, and the lungs.
Despite how bleak that sounds, there is good news. Cervical cancer is one of the slower growing cancers, and that slow development allows us plenty of chances to detect, treat, and even prevent it.
Most women with cervical pre-cancer are in their 20s and 30s. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the active stages are in their mid-50s.
Those years between a woman’s 20s and 50s are the prime years to stop cervical cancer in its tracks.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
The human papillomavirus, otherwise known as HPV, is one of the larger known causes of cervical cancer. HPV causes our bodies to produce certain cells that turn off the genes that slow down tumor growth.
The production of these genes could be what allows the lining of the cervix to grow and change, leading to cancer.
However, HPV isn’t the only cause of cervical cancer out there. Smoking, HIV, and the use of oral contraceptives can also contribute to cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Signs and Symptoms
One of the most heartbreaking things about cancer is that we often don’t know its growing inside of us until it’s hit the dangerous stage. Cervical cancer is no different.
The early stages of cervical cancer might not present any symptoms at all. As the disease progresses, you may experience things like:
- Non-menstruation vaginal bleeding
- Vaginal discharge
- Kidney failure
As you can see, many of these symptoms can be chalked up to normal menses pain. The silent nature of this disease is one of the reasons the death toll is still so high.
Cervical Cancer Screenings
The earlier your doctor catches cervical cancer, the better your chances of successful treatment. When the cancer is still in the early stages and it only latches on to a small area of your cervix, it’s much easier to treat.
As soon as cancer spreads to other organs or tissues nearby, the treatment becomes much more difficult.
One of the early detection tools that have made the biggest strides in the fight against cervical cancer is the use of the Papanicolaou test, also known as a pap smear. During an appointment with your OBGYN, your practitioner will collect cells from your cervix and send them away to be observed.
If your pap smear comes back as abnormal, your practitioner will need to take a biopsy of your cervical tissue for further testing. Regular pap smears are critical in maintaining good reproductive health.
Another test that has aided in the fight against cervical cancer is the HPV test. If your pap smear comes back abnormal, in addition to the biopsy, your doctor may also test you for HPV. This test isn’t a part of a routine care visit.
There are a number of different diagnostic tools that doctors can use to check for changes in your cervical health.
A colposcopy is when a doctor uses a dye to stain the cervical tissue and then examines that tissue under a microscope. It’s done in a similar way to a pelvic exam, and the doctor examines the cells right there in the exam room.
When to Seek Help
One of the tricky things about cervical cancer, as we mentioned before, is that it’s easy for you to brush off the symptoms as something related to a regular menstrual period. However, you know your body best. If you think you need to see a doctor, don’t wait.
One key sign to look out for if you’re postmenopausal is vaginal bleeding. It’s never normal to bleed after you go through menopause. If you experience this, visit your doctor as soon as possible.
In addition to the symptoms mentioned above, here are some other signs to watch out for:
- Excessive heavy bleeding
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Weakness, feeling faint or being light headed during vaginal bleeding
We can’t stress enough the importance of regular gynecological exams in the fight against cervical cancer. If you have any doubt, head to your OBGYN for a check up.
Get Screened This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
January is cervical cancer awareness month. There’s no better way to raise awareness for cervical cancer than to go out and get yourself screened. When you’re done, encourage your girlfriends to do the same!
Together, we can fight cervical cancer. Get screened!
If you or someone you love is fighting cervical cancer, give our treatment center a call today. We promise to provide you with compassionate, effective care with the most advanced treatments available.