In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, we here at Greenville OB/GYN would like to take a moment to share with you 5 facts to shed light on cervical cancer and how you can take precautionary steps to increase your chances of evading cervical cancer.
1. HPV is the #1 Cause of Cervical Cancer
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, but not all strains are transmitted sexually. There are over 200 types of HPV. About 40 types of HPV cause genital warts and are considered low-risk HPV because they don’t lead to other serious health problems. The HPV that leads to cervical cancer and other serious health problems is considered high-risk HPV.
Although the number of new cervical cancer cases has been declining over the past decades thanks to comprehensive screening, cervical cancer is still the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide and it is important that if you have ever had HPV or if there is a chance that you could have contracted it to speak to a doctor.
2. Called the “Silent Killer” Because There are No Early Warning Signs
Unlike other forms of cancer, there are no detectable symptoms of cervical cancer until it is in later stages. This is why it is important to get screened regularly by your OB/GYN. Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
3. Most Cervical Cancer Cases Are Preventable
Because cervical cancer is commonly caused by HPV, it can be prevented with the HPV vaccination. It is optimal for the HPV vaccination to be administered to preteens aged 11 to 12 years. While that is the optimal ages, the vaccination is still recommended by the CDC if you are under the age of 45 and have not received the vaccination. If you or a loved one did not receive the vaccination and you are outside of the recommended ages, still speak to your doctor. They can walk you through what it would mean for you to receive the vaccination now that you are older.
4. Women of All Ages Are at Risk of Cervical Cancer
It is a common misconception that cancer only affects people later in life and that is simply not the case. Cervical Cancer (along with all types of cancer) can affect anyone at any age. According to the CDC, you should get your first Pap test at age 21. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test. If you’re 30 years old or older, you have three options—
- You can continue getting a Pap test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait three years for your next test.
- You can get an HPV test only. If your test result is normal, you can wait five years for your next test.
- You can get both an HPV and Pap test together. If your test results are normal, you can wait five years for your next tests.
5. Smokers are Twice as Likely to Develop Cervical Cancer
Smoking weakens your immune system, making you more vulnerable to the human papillomavirus (HPV). If you or a loved one is a smoker, we urge you to consider quitting and to seek comprehensive screening.
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing cervical cancer include long term use of oral contraceptives, being overweight, family history, and being a woman of color.
Contact Greenville OB-GYN if you would like to further discuss cervical cancer, HPV, or to find out if you are at a higher risk.