What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer affects the uterine cervix, which connects the lower uterus with the upper vagina. It can develop in women of any age, but it’s most commonly diagnosed among sexually active women aged 30-45. It very rarely affects women under 25 years of age.
One of the reasons cervical cancer is most prevalent in the 30-45 age group is the key factors that increase your risk of developing the disease. There are a number of catalysts, which include:
- Contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Taking birth control medication
- Having multiple sexual partners
Making changes to your lifestyle choices across these areas can reduce your risk of being diagnosed with cervical cancer.
What are the average cervical cancer survival rates?
The biggest challenge that we face in battling cervical cancer is that the nature of the disease can make symptoms hard to detect. If caught early it has good survival rates, but around 4,000 women in the US die from cervical cancer each year – a higher mortality rate than many other types of cancer. This is often due to women receiving their diagnosis too late, simply because they ignored their symptoms.
However, mortality rates are not a reason to panic. Cervical cancer deaths have declined by 50% in the last 40 years because we’ve become better at spotting symptoms and seeking treatment earlier.
The best thing you can do to reduce your chances of being diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer is to know what signs to look for, and to visit your doctor immediately if you have any concerns.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Although we’ve said that cervical cancer symptoms can be harder to detect than certain other strains of the disease, there are some key signs you can look out for.
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic pain
If you are experiencing any combination of these symptoms, you should make an appointment with your doctor immediately.
How can I prevent cervical cancer?
In addition to making some of the lifestyle changes we mentioned above to limit your cervical cancer risk factors, it is important to ensure you are regularly tested to detect the presence of pre-cancerous cells.
Frequent pap testing and pelvic exams are the best way to catch pre-cancerous cells in the cervix before they develop into full-blown cancer. These cells can be easily treated through laser surgery (where lasers are used to burn away abnormal cells), cryosurgery (a technique where extreme cold, usually produced by liquid nitrogen, is used to destroy abnormal cells) or cauterization (localized medical burning of the pre-cancerous cells to destroy them).
Women in the US are advised to have a pap smear – a short, painless procedure in which a swab is taken from your cervix to test for cancerous or pre-cancerous cells - every three years from the age of 21.
What are the treatment options if I’m diagnosed with cervical cancer?
If you’re unfortunate enough to be diagnosed with cervical cancer, try not to panic; with the right treatment, many women who develop the disease go on to make a full recovery.
The exact course of treatment will depend on your diagnosis – including the type and size of tumor – and your doctor will talk through the options available to you. Common treatment routes include chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery to remove cancerous cells, or a combination of all three.
If you’re concerned that you may have cervical cancer, the most important thing to maximize your chances of making a full recovery is to get seen by a medical professional as soon as possible. The quicker doctors catch it, the more treatment options are available to you, and the better your odds of beating cervical cancer.
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