Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in women worldwide. Last year, there were 12,900 new cases of cervical cancer in the U.S. It is easy to diagnose early and easy to prevent. Learn how you can do both!
What is the cervix?
The cervix is the body part that connects a woman’s uterus and her vagina.
Sperm passes through the cervical canal to fertilize eggs and form an embryo. In childbirth, the cervix opens up to allow the baby to leave the uterus and come out of the body.
How does the cervix get cancer?
Cervical cancer is almost always related to HPV. The HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the main types of this virus that cause cancer. HPV burrows into the cells of the cervix and disrupt their DNA, causing these cells to divide like crazy and form a precancerous lesion. Over time, the precancerous cells can change and become cervical cancer cells.
Vaccination for HPV reduces the risk of HPV significantly. We’ll explain more about that in a later post.
How do I know if I have cervical cancer?
Usually, there are no symptoms, especially early on in the development of cancer. You may have vaginal bleeding or pain during sex, but these can be caused by many other things as well.
After the cancer has grown pretty far, you may have weight loss, fatigue, pain in the pelvis, heavy vaginal bleeding, and loss of appetite.
This is why it’s important to see your doctor and get a Pap smear. A Pap smear takes a sample of cells from the cervix and examines whether or not they are abnormal. This can detect precancerous cells so that they can be treated before the disease progresses to full-blown cancer.
Talk to your doctor about Pap smears to check that you’re free of cervical cancer every year.
What is the best way to prevent myself from getting cervical cancer?
The best way to prevent yourself from getting cervical cancer is to prevent yourself from getting HPV. Condoms can help block HPV from passing from one person to the next. However, HPV can still get passed along on skin that is not covered by the condom.
Again, the HPV vaccine is the number one way to prevent an HPV infection! These vaccines protect against the types of HPV that cause cancer and warts and will last the rest of your life. Usually, 3 doses over 6 months to provide a lifetime of security. Both boys and girls should get vaccinated. Although it’s better to get the shot before becoming sexually active, it is never too late to protect yourself against HPV infections!
To find out where you can get the HPV vaccine, click here: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdph/supp_info/clinical_health/hpv-vaccine-is-cancer-prevention.html
Remember, if you are 18 years or old, you do NOT need a parent’s permission to get the vaccine.
For more information about HPV, click here: http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/hpv-vaccine.html