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Cervical Cancer

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Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the cervix or the lower part of a woman’s uterus. Cervical cancer is primarily caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) infections. While cervical cancer was once a leading cause of cancer death for women, the numbers of diagnoses and deaths have decreased dramatically due to early detection and prevention.

Statistics 

  • This year alone, 12,340 new cases of cervical cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States.
  • In 2013, 4,030 women in the United States are 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.
  • One in 151 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer during her lifetime.
  • An estimated 1,257 Texas women will be diagnosed and 396 are expected to die from the disease in 2013.

Risk Factors 

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Almost all cervical cancer cases are caused by an HPV infection, which disrupts normal cell function and eventually forms a tumor. 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 have a higher-than-average risk of developing cervical cancer. Women with a history of Chlamydia and those taking medication for an autoimmune disease face an increased risk.
  • Smoking: Female smokers double their risk of cervical cancer, compared to nonsmokers.

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, especially after intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Painful intercourse
  • Post-menopausal bleeding
  • Pain in the pelvic area

Tips for Prevention 

The most effective screening tool for cervical cancer is a Pap test, in which a cell sample is reviewed with a microscope. All women should have a Pap test to screen for cervical cancer every three years beginning at age 21and not before. 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. Physicians may recommend that women have more frequent screening 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 and other HPV-related cancers, but HPV vaccines cannot prevent an existing infection.

Treatment Options 

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, 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