Cervical cancer doesn’t have obvious symptoms. Unlike other forms of cancer, early-stage cervical cancer and its precursors don’t have physical symptoms that signal you might have the disease. But, once cervical cancer has advanced, warning signs start to appear.
A risk factor is anything that changes your chance of getting a disease. There are several risk factors that may increase the chance of developing cervical cancer, including:
- Human papillomavirus infection (HPV)
- Being overweight
- Having a family history of cervical cancer
A Pap smear is your best tool for prevention. When cervical cancer has grown into other structures, symptoms like abnormal bleeding between periods, pain or bleeding during intercourse and abnormal discharge throughout the menstrual cycle may appear. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to contact your doctor right away.
You can guard against cancer-causing HPV with vaccines. Gardasil and Cervarix are vaccines that protect girls and women ages nine to 26 from HPV linked to cervical cancer. Additionally, Gardasil can protect boys and men from genital warts, around 90 percent. Note that these vaccinations have a better immune response in adolescents, so that is why it’s recommended all 11-12-year-old girls and boys receive the two-dose series. While vaccines can protect against 70-80 percent of cervical cancers, you may still be at risk of getting another type of HPV. Vaccines reduce risk but don’t eliminate it. The vaccines can also protect from vulvar and vaginal cancers. The vaccine can protect men and women against anal and oropharyngeal cancers. Additionally, they can protect boys and men from penile cancer. Gardasil can also prevent genital warts.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women follow these guidelines to help find cervical cancer early as well as finding pre-cancers:
Women should start cervical cancer screening at age 21. Women 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every three years, and beginning at 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years, continuing to age 65. Another option for testing starting at 30 is to be tested every three years with just the Pap test.
Women at high risk for cervical cancer may need to be screened more often and should consult with their healthcare provider.
Women over 65 who have had regular screenings in the previous 10 years should stop cervical cancer screenings as long as they haven’t had any serious pre-cancers found in the last 20 years.
Interesting Facts and Resources
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection with high-risk types of HPV or Human papillomavirus. The virus is linked to a total of six different cancers: cervical, vaginal, vulvar, penile, anal and throat.
The HPV vaccine can prevent at least 90% of HPV related cancers. The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls receive the vaccine when they are 11 to 12 years old.
The American Cancer Society estimates approximately 170 new cases of cervical cancer in Colorado in 2017 and an estimated 50 deaths.
Thank you to the Colorado Cancer Coalition for information that was used in this article. The Colorado Cancer Coalition is a statewide collaborative working to eliminate the burden of cancer in Colorado. Our task forces and members work together to improve the life of all Coloradans touched by cancer. To learn more go to http://www.coloradocancercoalition.org. The Colorado Cancer Coalition is a sponsored project of the Trailhead Institute, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the public’s health and the environment in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region.
Thank you to the American Cancer Society for contributing information that was used in this article. For cancer information and resources, contact the American Cancer Society 24 hours a day at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org. The Society’s mission is to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer.