Unlike many cancers, more than 99 percent of all cervical cancers are caused by just one thing: a previous human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Nearly 80 million people currently have HPV in the U.S., and most sexually active men and women will get at least one kind of HPV in their lifetimes.
Our physicians have put together this guide to inform you about:
- How to prevent cervical cancer
- What to do if you’re diagnosed
- What treatment options are available
- Managing your health after cancer treatment
Detection and Prevention
Cancer that has grown and spread in the body is particularly tough to fight. That’s why early detection and prevention are two of the best ways we can stop cervical cancer in its tracks. When women with invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed at an early stage, their five-year survival rate is 92 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Cervical cancer was once the highest cause of cancer death for American women, and it remains one of the most common women’s cancers worldwide. However, in countries such as the United States, where cervical cancer screenings are part of women’s routine checkups, the number of women who have this disease has dropped significantly.
Doctors check for cervical cancer using a screening method called a Pap smear. Nearly all women age 21 to 65 should be regularly screened with Pap smears, including those who have received the HPV vaccine. Ask your doctor how often you should be tested.
In general, you should be screened for cervical cancer along these guidelines:
- Younger than 21: You likely do not need to be screened with a Pap smear until age 21.
- Between 21 and 29: You should have a Pap smear every three years.
- Between 30 and 65: You should have a Pap smear and an HPV test every five years.
- Older than 65: You should be screened only if you’ve been diagnosed with cervical precancer, a condition where abnormal cells that can lead to cancer are found on the surface of the cervix.
Getting a Pap smear regularly is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. These screenings are vital to detect cervical cancer early because women with this disease often don’t recognize symptoms until later stages. These symptoms can include:
- Bleeding: Bleeding after sex, after menopause, or between periods, or having longer and heavier periods.
- Vaginal pain: Particularly during sex (severe pain could mean a more advanced cancer stage).
- Unusual discharge: Discharge may appear pink and watery (often containing blood) or smell foul.
There are several risk factors that can raise your risk of cervical cancer. You should be screened more often if you have any of the following risk factors:
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure: DES was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971, and it can cause cervical cancer in women whose mothers took this medication
- Family history of cervical cancer
- History of sexually transmitted infection: including chlamydia, HIV, and HPV
- History of tobacco use
- Immunosuppression: including women with conditions such as HIV, those being treated for immune system disorders, and those taking post-organ-transplant medications
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Pregnancy before age 17
If You Are Diagnosed
A variety of treatments are available for cervical cancer in addition to traditional medications and therapy. You may first want to get a second opinion. After that, research what you can expect in the coming weeks and months, and ask your doctors and nurses questions – that’s what we’re here for.
Some questions to ask your care team that may help you better understand your diagnosis include:
- Could the location of the cancer cause any immediate health emergencies?
- Has the cancer spread to any other parts of my body?
- How comfortable are you treating cancers like mine?
- Is the cancer hereditary?
- What can I expect going forward?
Once we’ve answered all of your questions, we’ll work with you to determine your treatment.
There currently is no cure for cervical cancer, but with treatment, we can improve your quality of life and greatly reduce the disease’s ability to spread.
Our doctors use advanced treatment options to fight cervical cancer. We offer minimally invasive surgical options as well as fertility-preserving surgery for women with early-stage cervical cancer, alongside treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. We also participate in clinical trials that can offer new treatments and contribute to lifesaving research.
We provide the high-quality treatment you’d expect from a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Life Beyond Cancer
Beating cancer is an incredible feat that deserves celebration. But many women worry about recurrence – when cancer returns. The disease also can take a physical and mental toll on you, which can make you feel scared, unsure, and overwhelmed.
You’re not alone. We offer support groups and classes for cancer survivors and their caregivers. You may need further treatment for the side effects of your cancer care or to help you get back to a normal routine.
It’s also important that you receive regular checkups to make sure the cancer is gone and your body is recovering. Be sure to ask your doctor about anything that doesn’t feel right. It’s your body – you’re the best advocate for your health.
Talk to your doctor about prevention, treatment, and survivorship. Together, we’ll help you achieve the most positive outcome for your cervical cancer.