Cervical cancer awareness month
MP EDTION 065
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. It is a type of cancer that forms in the cervix when abnormal cells in the lining grow out of control. The cervix is a part of the woman’s reproductive system and what connects your vagina to the upper part of your uterus.
Who can get cervical cancer?
All women who have a cervix are at risk for cervical cancer. Women who are sexually active are also at a higher risk for developing cervical cancer. This is because sexual activity potentially exposes you to HPV, which is the major cause of most cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44, with the average age at diagnosis being 50. As you age, the risk of developing cervical cancer is still very much present.
Cervical cancer symptoms
As with any cancer or illness, the earlier it can be detected, the better so it’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.
- Irregular bleeding: One of the most common and early signs of cervical cancer, irregular bleeding tends to happen when the cancer cells grow on the tissue below the cervix.
- Unusual vaginal discharge: To be clear, the feminine discharge and odor is perfectly normal and healthy but a change in either color, smell, or consistency could indicate cervical cancer.
- Pain during sex: This could indicate that the cancer is spreading to the surrounding tissues.
- Unusual weight loss: Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss are also potential indicators of cervical cancer, particularly if weight loss is significant or occurs even without loss of appetite.
- Sore legs: In more advanced stages of cervical cancer, it might expand and press on the nerves in the lower back, leading to leg pain and swelling.
- Lower back pain: Persistent pain in the lower back, pelvis, or appendix area is another potential symptom of cervical cancer.
There may be multiple causes for the above symptoms and having symptoms like these does not mean you have cervical cancer. If you’re ever unsure or concerned, please consult your doctor. The only definitive way to know if the symptoms are those of cervical cancer is to get a smear test to detect cancerous cells.
Many cases of cervical cancer can be treated when caught early on. The best way to do that is through screening, which is why it's so important to regularly get a pap (or smear) test because they will catch irregular changes in the cervix.
If you’ve ever been sexually active, you should start having regular pap tests by the time you’re 21 and continue to get tested every 1 to 3 years.
How to prevent cervical cancer
While 100% prevention may not be possible, you might be able to lower your risk of cervical cancer.
- Get the HPV vaccine: A common STI (sexually transmitted disease), HPV (human papillomavirus) is the main cause of cervical cancer.
- Practice safer sex: Anyone who has had sex is at risk for HPV. Have an open conversation and talk to your partner(s) about their sexual history and use condoms to help protect against HPV.
- Avoid smoking: Smoking increases the risk of cancer.
- Talk to your doctor: The risk of cervical cancer is inordinately high and some women may even have a higher than normal risk. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned. If you are at higher risk, you may need to get screened more often or take additional preventive measures.
Cervical cancer is extremely prevalent among women but the good news is that chances of treatment and recovery increase the earlier it is detected. While it’s important to know and be aware of the symptoms, the symptoms themselves are quite common and each on their own could also be indicators of other issues so the only surefire way to know is to get tested regularly.