January is national Cervical Cancer Awareness month.
How much do you know about cervical cancer?
What are your risks for developing cervical cancer?
Do you know what symptoms to look for?
Cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer that is caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that can be carried by either partner.
While HPV is mostly known for affecting women, nearly 50 percent of all men will contract the virus during their lifetime, thereby furthering the spread of HPV. Currently, there is no evidence that indicates cervical cancer is genetic. The majority of cases are caused by an infection of HPV.
A woman dies from cervical cancer every two minutes around the globe. Cervical cancer is the fifth leading cause of death from cancer in women worldwide.
However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly in the U.S. This decline largely is the result of many women getting regular pap tests, which can find cervical pre-cancer before it turns into cancer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2007 12,280 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the U.S. Of those, 4,021 died from the disease.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
* Age. Women who are under the age of 50 are at a greater risk for contracting the human papillomavirus.
* Race. African American women are twice as likely to die from cervical cancer as the Caucasian population. Hispanics and American Indians also face a greater risk.
* Sexual History. Women that become sexually active at a young age, typically at or before 16, are at a greater risk for developing this cancer. It is estimated that 20 to 40 percent of sexually active women have some form of HPV (however, not all forms are harmful) and carry a higher risk in contracting one of the cancer provoking strains. Also, having multiple partners increases the opportunities for contracting the virus.
* Smoking. By-products of tobacco have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. It is believed that these by-products damage the DNA of cervical cells, increasing the risk of cervical cancer. Smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as non-smokers, as well as many other types of cancer.
In the early stages of cervical cancer, there are no symptoms. If symptoms are present, usually at a later stage of the disease, they are associated with a number of other causes.
Abnormal discharge, bleeding or pelvic pain are the most common indicators of the cancer. Women that are experiencing such symptoms should contact their healthcare provider for a visit right away.
Cervical cancer can be prevented. With routine examinations, physicians are better able to monitor changes in the cervix and diagnosis a problem much sooner. Today, vaccines are available for young women.
Vaccines, such as Gardasil and Cervarix, can help to protect women from contracting specific strains of HPV. The vaccines are recommended for females between the ages of 11 and 26 and should be administered by a physician.
Even with a vaccine, routine examinations are still necessary to monitor changes in cells and tissue.
Pre-cancer conditions are curable when diagnosed and treated properly. The five-year survival rate for cancer that has spread to the inside of the cervix walls but not outside the cervix area is 92 percent.
However, the five-year survival rate falls steadily as the cancer spreads into other areas.
Women, as a whole, tend to focus care and attention on others that are near to them and neglect routine care for themselves. This month, we encourage all women of all ages to schedule a day of proactive care.
Schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider to protect yourself. Then, reward yourself with a special treat and celebrate being a woman.
Make it annual event for yourself so you can continue to care for those near to you for many years.
Dr. Jamie Cooper and Dr. Kristine Knapp are board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. Their practice is located inside of Putnam County Hospital. For more information, questions, or to schedule a screening, call 655-2686.