What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix. The cervix connects the lower part of a woman’s uterus to her vagina. Cervical cancer was once one of the leading causes of death among US women. That changed when Pap smears became widely available. This test allows doctors to find and treat significant changes in a woman’s cervix. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the death rate has decreased by 50 percent over the past 40 years.
The ACS estimates that approximately 12,820 American women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2017, and 4,210 will die from the disease. In most cases, women between the ages of 20 and 50 will be diagnosed.
What is the cervix?
The uterine cervix is also known as the “cervix”. If you’re a woman, it’s the hollow cylinder that connects your uterus to your vagina. Your uterus is where the fetus grows during pregnancy.
The surface of your cervix faces outward into your vagina. It is made up of different types of cells from the lining of your cervical canal. Most cervical cancers begin on the surface of the cervix.
What is the link between cervical cancer and HPV?
Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). There are several types of HPV. Only certain types are associated with cervical cancer. The two types that most commonly cause cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
Infection with the cancer-causing strain of HPV does not mean you will get cervical cancer. Your immune system eliminates the vast majority of HPV infections. Most people recover from the virus within two years. However, HPV is quite common.
HPV can also cause other cancers in men and women. These include:
- vulvar cancer
- vaginal cancer
- penile cancer
- anal cancer
- rectal cancer
- throat cancer
However, infection of the two most common cancer-causing strains of HPV can be prevented by vaccination. The vaccine is most effective before a person becomes sexually active. Both boys and girls can be vaccinated against HPV.
The risk of HPV transmission can also be reduced by practicing safe sexual intercourse. However, condoms cannot prevent all HPV infections. The virus can also be transmitted from skin to skin.
What is a Pap smear?
A Pap smear is a test doctors use to diagnose cervical cancer. To do this test, your doctor collects cells from the surface of your cervix. These cells are then sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope for evidence of precancerous or cancerous changes. If such changes are found, your doctor may recommend a colposcopy to examine your cervix. Early lesions can be removed before they cause too much damage.
Routine Pap smears have greatly reduced the number of deaths from cervical cancer.
What is the outlook for cervical cancer?
Five-year survival rates are excellent for cervical cancers caught early. This is not true for larger, invasive cancers. Once the cancer has spread or metastasized within the pelvic region, the five-year survival rate drops to 57 percent. If the cancer has spread outside of this area, the rate drops to 16 percent, according to the ACS.
Routine Pap smears are important. Cervical cancer that is caught early is very treatable. Precancerous changes are often detected and treated before cervical cancer develops. Testing and treatment stop cervical cancer before it starts. According to the ACS, most American women diagnosed with cervical cancer have never had a Pap smear or have had one in the past five years.
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