Cervical Health Awareness Month is a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease. It is also a major cause of cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical Cancer begins in the lining of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Most cervical cancers begin in the cells of the transformation zone, the area where the squamous cells and glandular cells meet.
How does cervical cancer develop?
The normal cells of the cervix gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer. Doctors use several terms to describe these pre-cancerous changes, including cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL), and dysplasia.
How do you detect cervical cancer?
The changes in these cells can be detected by a routine Papanicolaou Test (Pap Test). Cervical cancers and cervical pre-cancers are classified under the microscope. About 80-90% of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. The cancer cells have features of squamous cells under the microscope.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
A risk factor is anything that changes your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. It is important to note that having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that you will get a disease. Having a risk factor does, however, increase your chances of getting a disease.
Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection-
This is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, some of which cause a type of growth called papillomas, which are more commonly known as warts. HPV can infect cells on the surface of the skin, and those lining the genitals, anus, mouth and throat, but not the blood or internal organs such as the heart or lungs. HPV can be spread from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact. One way HPV is spread is through sex.
Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. The cancer-causing chemicals that are released in the body during smoking are absorbed through the lungs and carried in the bloodstream. Researchers believe that such substances damage the DNA of cervix cells, and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the virus that causes AIDS, damages the immune system and puts women at higher risk for HPV infection. This may partially explain the increased risk of cervical cancer in women with AIDS.
Chlamydia is a relatively common kind of bacteria that can infect the reproductive system. It is spread by sexual contact and can cause pelvic inflammation, leading to infertility.
There are several other factors that will put you at a higher risk for cervical cancer. These include: A diet low in fruits and vegetables • being overweight • long-term use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills) • intrauterine device use • having multiple full-term pregnancies • being younger than 17 at your first full-term pregnancy • poverty • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) For more information on these risk factors click here.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until a pre-cancer becomes a true invasive cancer and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
- abnormal vaginal bleeding
- an unusual discharge from the vagina– this discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause
- pain during sex (vaginal intercourse)
Can cervical cancer be prevented?
Yes. Since the most common form of cervical cancer starts with pre-cancerous changes, there are two ways to stop this disease from developing. One way is to find and treat pre-cancers before they become true cancers. The other is to prevent the pre-cancers in the first place.
Finding cervical pre-cancers-
A well-proven way to prevent cervix cancer is to undergo testing (screening) to find pre-cancers before they can turn into invasive cancer. The Pap Test (sometimes called the Pap smear) and the HPV (human papilloma virus) test are used for this. If a pre-cancer is found, it can be treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts.
Things to do to prevent pre-cancers and cancers-
- Avoid contact with the human papilloma virus (HPV)
- Use condoms
- Don’t smoke
- Get vaccinated
It is important to realize that no vaccine provides complete protection against all cancer-causing types of HPV, so routine cervical cancer screening is still necessary.
Below is a quick summary guide to help you stay cancer-free
Not one single woman ever needs to die from cervical cancer. We have the tools we need to prevent this disease so let’s use them. Get involved. Make a difference! Visit the National Cervical Cancer Coalition online.
You can also visit the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre or visit their website for more information http://www.cancer.bm