In 2013, 11,955 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S.
While cervical cancer used to be common and was the leading cause of cancer death in women, the introduction of the Pap smear as an early detection tool has significantly reduced the rate of fatalities associated with this type of cancer. The five-year survival rate for women who have cervical cancer diagnosed at its earliest stages is 93 percent.
Even with the vast improvements in diagnosis and treatment, it’s still important for all women to understand the risk factors associated with developing this type of cancer, learn how early intervention improves recovery and understand which treatment options they may have to consider.
How Is it Diagnosed?
Cervical cancer is usually diagnosed during a routine Pap exam. Your doctor will take a sample of cells from your cervix (the lower part of your uterus) and a lab will examine the cells. Your doctor will be able to identify the growth of abnormal cells, or cells that are beginning to change and increase the risk of cervical cancer.
If your doctor finds abnormalities, he or she will schedule a full examination of your uterus in order to determine the extent of the abnormal cell growth. The doctor may take tissue samples and conduct imaging tests in order to fully understand the what stage the disease is in.
HPV: Get Tested
One of the main causes of this disease is human papillomavirus (HPV), which is spread through sexual contact. There are many strains of HPV, and not all cause cervical cancer, but it is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the U.S. An estimated 79 million Americans are infected, and 14 million new infections occur every year.
While some HPV strains cause genital warts, the strain that can lead to cervical cancer cannot be discovered without a Pap test. This is why it is vitally important to attend regular annual exams — early intervention is key to preventing abnormal cell growth.
Explore Treatment Options
If you’re diagnosed with cervical cancer, your doctor will recommend treatment options based on multiple factors:
- The stage of the disease
- Your age
- Your overall health
- Your personal preference
At the earliest stages, a combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be recommended. Cryosurgery involves freezing off the area of the cervix containing abnormal cells. Laser beam surgery also targets and vaporizes abnormal cells. Later stages may require a more advanced surgical approach and additional rounds of radiation and/or chemotherapy.
Because treatment can affect your ability to have children, consider getting a second opinion before you decide on a treatment course. Ultimately, the primary goal is to enable you to fully recover from the disease, but with late-stage diagnoses, the priority may shift to relieving symptoms.
Prevention: Stay Proactive
One of the top ways to stay cancer-free is to reduce contact with HPV. Sexual intercourse isn’t required for infection to spread — only physical, skin-to-skin contact. Still, condom use can reduce the incidence of infection.
Doctors recommend that young men and women receive an HPV vaccination to protect against dangerous strains of HPV. Also, women should follow a strict schedule when it comes to annual Pap exams — a proactive approach is most effective.
Contact Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center for more information on how to diagnose, treat and prevent cervical cancer, and get the medical assistance you need today.