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Cervical cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the cervix or the lower part of a woman’s uterus. Cervical cancer is primarily caused by HPV infections. While cervical cancer was once a leading cause of cancer death for women, the number of diagnoses and deaths have decreased dramatically due to early detection and prevention.
- In 2014, 12,360 new cases of cervical cancer were expected to be diagnosed in women in the United States.
- In 2014, 4,020 women in the United States were expected to die from cervical cancer.
- When detected early before the cancer spreads from the primary site, women have a 91 percent survival rate after five years.
- About 0.7 percent of women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer during her lifetime.
- An estimated 1,253 Texas women were expected to be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014 and 429 were expected to die from the disease in 2014.
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A large number of cervical cancer cases are caused by an HPV infection, which can trigger changes in cell reproduction, and in some cases, cause cervical cancer. Women who have had many sexual partners or began having intercourse at a young age face an increased risk for HPV infection.
- Age: Cervical cancer most often occurs in women between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Medical History: Women with HIV or a history of Chlamydia have a higher risk of cervical cancer.
- Smoking: Female smokers double their risk of cervical cancer, compared to non-smokers.
- Oral Contraceptives: Long-term use of birth control pills may increase the risk of cervical cancer, especially in women who have taken oral contraceptives for more than five years.
- Childbirth: Multiple childbirths can increase risk of developing cervical cancer. Women who have had more than three full-term pregnancies face a higher risk, as well as women who have had a full-term pregnancy before age 17.
Symptoms and Signs
The early changes related to cervical cancer may not come with warning signs; however, women may notice symptoms and pain as the disease worsens. If any of the following symptoms or signs is present, women are encouraged to consult their physician for proper testing:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Painful intercourse
- Post-menopausal bleeding
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area
Tips for Prevention
The most widely used screening tool for cervical cancer is a Pap test, in which a cell sample is reviewed with a microscope. Women in their 20s should have a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer every three years beginning at age 21 and not before, regardless of whether they have received the HPV vaccine. Women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s should have a Pap test and DNA HPV test every five years or only a Pap test every three years to screen for cervical cancer. The DNA HPV test, given in conjunction with a routine Pap test, may identify existing HPV infections that could lead to cervical cancer. Physicians may recommend that women have more frequent screenings if certain risk factors are present. Women over 65 should discuss the risks and benefits of screening with their physician.
Girls and young women may also receive vaccinations to prevent the types of HPV infections that cause cancer. Two vaccines have been approved for use in females age 9-26 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines may reduce a woman’s risk of cervical cancer, but HPV vaccines cannot protect against existing infections.
All women with cervical cancer should consult with a medical oncologist and gynecologic oncologist to determine their specific treatment needs. There are several treatment options for cervical cancer including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and surgery. Each method may be used alone, or in combination with other treatments.
Source: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Cancer Institute, and Texas Cancer Registry