When cancer starts in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent, with regular screening tests and follow-up.
Two screening tests can help detect cervical cancer or find it early:
- The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately
- The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer:
- Having human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Having HIV or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight
off health problems
- Using birth control pills for five or more years
- Having given birth to three or more children
Signs and Symptoms
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.
- An unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during intercourse.
These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding. Still, if you have any of these signs or other suspicious symptoms, you should see your health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to progress to a more advanced stage and lower your chance for effective treatment.
Even better, don't wait for symptoms to appear. Have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams.
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular Pap tests, which can find cervical precancer before it turns into cancer.
Your primary doctor can often treat pre-cancers and can often perform the colonoscopy and biopsy to diagnose pre-cancers and cancers. If there is a diagnosis of invasive cancer, your doctor should refer you to a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who specializes in cancers of women's reproductive systems.
- The All Women Count! Program provides financial assistance for Pap tests and mammograms to women who meet income and age guidelines.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- American Cancer Society
Source: South Dakota Department of Health Work Well Toolkit