First Things, First; What's a Cervix?
The cervix separates the vagina from the rest of the uterus. It is the thing that dilates (opens up) when women are in labor so the baby can be born.
What's Causes Cancer of the Cervix?
Most cervical cancers are caused by human papilloma viruses (HPV). There are many types of HPV and only some of them cause trouble for the cervix. Others cause warts and some have no effect at all.
HPV is very common. It's estimated at any given time, almost half of all sexually active men have HPV – and they can expose their partners to it. Over their lifetime, at least 80% of women will have some type of HPV infection.
How Do I Know if I Have Cervical Cancer?
There are no symptoms of early cervical cancer, so screening is very important. Getting regular pap smears and HPV tests can help detect early changes that could progress to cancer. If you're nervous about getting a pap smear, check out tips for an easier exam.
If you test positive for HPV and have pre-cancerous cells on your pap smear, your provider will probably do a colposcopy and take samples of these cells. Colposcopies take 5-10 minutes. They're slightly uncomfortable as the speculum is in place the whole time. If biopsies are taken, it often feels like a quick cramp or pinch.
After a colposcopy, next steps could include,
- More frequent pap smears
- Repeat colposcopy in a few months
- An in-office or outpatient procedure to remove groups of abnormal cells
- Doing noting at all if the sample showed no pre-cancerous cells
How Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?
- Decrease your risk. Risk factors for HPV and Cervical Cancer include:
- Having sex at an early age.
- Having many sexual partners.
- Having a partner who has or has had, many sexual partners.
- Having a weakened immune system can cause an existing HPV infection to get worse and cause cervical cells to become abnormal.
- Check-in with a healthcare provider regularly and have pap smears and HPV testing. These will pick up abnormal cervical cells early and decrease the likelihood that you will get cervical cancer.
- Get vaccinated. The HPV vaccine is safe and has been available for a long time. Millions of people have had it. Preteens should get vaccinated at the same time they get their other 6th-grade vaccines. Everyone, with few exceptions, eventually has sex. Vaccinating school-aged kids ensures they're ready for sex when the time comes; whether that's in high school, college, or later adulthood. If you're an adult and you've never had the HPV vaccine, talk to your healthcare provider and get vaccinated. That goes for males, as well. They're half the equation of HPV and cervical cancer prevention.
For information about treatment for cervical cancer, click here.