Updated: Nov 15
Cervical cancer is a global concern, affecting hundreds of thousands of women each year. Early detection and prevention are key to combatting this disease. In this article, we'll explore cervical cancer, its causes, symptoms, types, and preventive measures at different stages of life.
Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a malignancy that arises when cancerous cells develop in the cervix, the part of the body that links the uterus and the vagina. It is a significant public health issue and ranks as the fourth most common cancer in women globally.
According to data from the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2018, approximately 570,000 women worldwide were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and tragically, about 311,000 women lost their lives to it. Cervical cancer most frequently strikes women between the ages of 35 and 44, with instances among individuals under the age of 20 being extremely rare.
Cervical cancer is classified into four stages based on the size of the cancer and its spread throughout the body. Additionally, various types of cervical cancers and precancers are identified by their microscopic appearance. The good news is that there are technical, medical, and policy tools available to combat cervical cancer. The WHO asserts that a comprehensive global strategy focused on prevention, screening, and treatment could potentially eliminate cervical cancer as a public health concern within a single generation.
The Root Cause of Cervical Cancer
Ninety-nine percent of cervical cancer cases are associated with a high-risk strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a prevalent sexually transmitted virus. The WHO notes that most sexually active individuals will contract HPV at some point in their lives, with some experiencing repeat infections.
Spotting the Symptoms In its early stages, pre-cancer and cervical cancer may not manifest any noticeable symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, the following signs may become apparent:
Pain during sexual intercourse
Irregular vaginal bleeding
Increased vaginal discharge
Longer and heavier menstrual periods
Unexplained, persistent pelvic or back pain
In advanced stages, when cancer has spread to other parts of the body, symptoms can become more severe. It is important to remember that these signs can also be caused by other conditions, so if you experience any persistent symptoms, consult a healthcare provider promptly.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
Preventing cervical cancer primarily involves the HPV vaccine and regular screening tests. Here's a guideline for safeguarding yourself at various stages of life:
Ages 9–13: Receive the HPV vaccine in two shots. This vaccine is most effective when administered before HPV infection. The CDC recommends it for all individuals, with priority given to girls as a means of preventing cervical cancer.
Ages 21–30: Undergo a Pap smear every three years. If abnormal cells are detected, your doctor may suggest more frequent screenings or further testing.
Ages 31–64: Have a Pap smear every three years or a combined Pap and HPV test every five years.
To further protect yourself, practice safe sex by using condoms and dental dams. Screening tests aim to identify pre-cancer or early-stage cervical cancer, which is more treatable and has a better prognosis. With early detection, cervical cancer is associated with longer survival and an improved quality of life.
In Conclusion, cervical cancer is primarily linked to HPV and develops in the cervix, potentially spreading throughout the body. Early-stage cervical cancer may not present symptoms, underscoring the importance of HPV vaccination and regular gynecological screenings. Early detection significantly enhances the chances of recovery and survival.