What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when the normal cells that line the cervix gradually begin to change – turning into pre-cancerous cells. Since cervical cancer often does not exhibit signs in the early stages, these pre-cancerous cells can turn into cancer rapidly if untreated or undiagnosed.
Where is the cervix located and what does it do?
The cervix connects the uterus and the birth canal, and it plays a crucial role in healthy functioning of the reproductive system for menstruation, pregnancy and childbirth.
What are some risk factors for cervical cancer?
One of the largest risk factors for cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted disease, which is caused by a group of viruses that can lead to genital warts. This is done by skin-to-skin or sexual contact with an infected individual. HPV infections are very common, and most go away by themselves and don’t cause problems. But in some cases, they lead to abnormal cell changes and cancer.
Other factors that can potentially heighten a woman’s risk for cervical cancer include smoking, contracting HIV or chlamydia, poor diet or long-term use of birth control pills.
How can I take measures to prevent myself from getting cervical cancer?
You can prevent cervical cancer by getting an annual check-up. Doctors recommend that all women should begin regular screenings by age 21, with follow-up screenings every three years. To check for cervical cancer, your doctor will conduct a Pap smear, where he/she tests cells taken from the cervix for any cellular changes.
To prevent contraction of HPV, doctors also recommend that young girls should receive the HPV vaccine around age 12 or if not then, by age 26. Ideally, it should be given before any type of sexual contact with another person occurs. Practicing safe sex by using condoms is also recommended to prevent the risk for contracting HPV. Along with many other forms of cancers, choosing a smoke-free lifestyle will also help to reduce your risk for cervical cancer.
HPV has also been linked to cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
“It is important to know that cervical cancer is a preventable disease. Over the last years, both the number of cases and the mortality associated with cervical cancer have decreased significantly,” said ACCESS Chief Medical Officer Jairo Mejia. “This positive change is the result of more women being tested but more importantly, a group of preventive measures available to every woman these days, including the vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) and education about safer sexual practices.”
If you have questions about cervical cancer prevention or diagnosis, schedule an appointment with your care provider today. ACCESS has locations near you and our team of health care professionals is ready to help you learn more.