What Is Cervical Cancer?The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. Most cervical cancers begin in the cells that line the cervix. The normal cells of the cervix slowly develop into precancerous cells. It takes time for the precancerous cells to turn into cancerous cells, and this is why it’s so important to get regular screenings.
Screening for Cervical CancerThere are two tests which are performed to screen for cervical cancer – a Pap smear and an HPV test. The Pap smear tests for precancerous cells. The HPV test looks for the human papillomavirus which can lead to cancer. The Pap test is recommended for women ages 21-65. It is done right in your doctor or gynecologist’s office. A speculum (a metal or plastic instrument) is placed inside the vagina and used to widen it and then a few swabs are taken and tested in a lab to make sure they are not abnormal. The HPV test is done similarly, but the lab will test for the human papillomavirus. The new recommendations from the American College of Gynecology (ACOG) is to have a Pap smear performed every three years starting at the age of 21. If you are at higher risk, meaning you have had precancerous cells in a prior test, then your doctor will recommend more frequent screenings. The Pap test is the most accurate screening test there is for cervical cancer. It does not detect any other gynecological cancers, though, so for any abnormal symptoms you should see your doctor. Aside from regular screenings, you want to make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent yourself from getting cervical cancer.
How to Prevent Cervical CancerGetting screened is the most important thing you can do in preventing cervical cancer. However, beyond that there are some other things you can do as well. Since HPV can cause cervical cancer, getting the HPV vaccine will help prevent you from getting cervical cancer. Beyond that, eating right, not smoking, not having lots of sexual partners and practicing safe sex (using condoms) will help prevent you from getting cervical cancer. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease. And while HPV can live on both the male and female genitalia in areas which are not protected by a condom, using a condom has been shown to lower the chances of transmitting HPV and getting cervical cancer. All of these steps will help prevent you from getting cervical cancer.
Getting Cervical CancerIn most instances it takes a few years for precancerous cells to turn into cancer cells, and most times that doesn’t even happen. This is why it’s important to have regular screenings so you can catch the cancer early, because that’s always your best chance. There are many factors which will weigh in on your chances of survival with cervical cancer. These include:
- Type of cancer
- Stage of cancer
- Age and overall health
- If the cancer comes back after treatment