January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Cervical cancer is cancer that originates in the cells of the cervix, or the lowest part of the uterus. According to the American Cancer Society, around 14,000 women are diagnosed with the disease in the U.S. each year.
According to Shelby Knox, PA-C, a provider at Tioga Medical Center, most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. HPV is a virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex. “HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives,” says Shelby. “For many, HPV will go away on its own; however, for some, there is a chance that it may cause cervical cancer.”
Other risk factors of the disease include:
Having HIV or another condition that makes it difficult for your body to fight infection
While all women are at risk for developing cervical cancer, it is most common in women over 30 years of age.
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers may show no signs or symptoms at all. Often, it’s when the cancer spreads that symptoms develop.
Those symptoms may include:
Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, or having periods that are longer or heavier than usual
Unusual vaginal discharge
Pain in the pelvic region
“It’s important to note that these symptoms may not be the result of cervical cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to consult with your provider,” says Shelby.
The good news is that there are things you can do to prevent cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines are available to help protect children and young adults against certain HPV infections, including those most commonly linked to cancer. These vaccines only work to prevent HPV infection and will not treat an infection that’s already present. Visit with your healthcare provider for more information about the HPV vaccine.
Routine screenings are a well-proven way to help prevent cervical cancer or detect it at an earlier, more treatable stage. These screenings include a Pap test (or Pap smear) and the HPV test.
“With these screenings, we’re looking for pre-cancers, or abnormal changes to the cells on the cervix, that may ultimately lead to invasive cancer if left untreated” says Shelby.
Most medical organizations suggest beginning screening for cervical cancer and precancerous changes at age 21. The tests are usually repeated every few years.
Make your health a priority. Schedule a cervical cancer screening with your Tioga Medical Center healthcare provider today. Call 701-664-3368 or use the Patient Portal.