By Dr. Wendi Monthy, Legacy Medical Director of OB/GYN
Every year almost 13,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. January has been designated Cervical Health Awareness Month by Congress to raise awareness about the role regular screenings play in cervical health.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death for women. Fortunately that trend has been decreasing thanks to regular screening tests that detect abnormalities before cancer develops.
The two most common tests to help prevent cervical cancer are the Pap smear and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. The Pap smear (also called a Pap test) looks for cell changes in the cervix that could potentially become cancerous if not treated. The HPV test looks for the virus that can cause cell changes in the cervix.
HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer. Of the more than 100 different types of HPV, most are considered low risk and do not cause cervical cancer. The majority of women infected with the HPV virus do not develop cervical cancer. In fact, even in those with signs of an HPV infection, 90 percent of cases will be resolved on their own within two years.
However, more than 70 percent of cervical cancers can be attributed to two types of the HPV virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18, commonly referred to as high-risk HPV types.
Cervical cancer causes few symptoms in the early stages. In fact, it can take years for HPV symptoms to develop or the virus to be detected. However, in its advanced stages it can cause:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Pelvic pain not related to a menstrual cycle
- Heavy discharge
- Increased urinary frequency
- Pain while urinating
If you have any of these symptoms you should see your OB/GYN or health care provider.
In addition to the Pap smear and HPV test, there are other ways to help prevent cervical cancer. Follow up with your doctor if your cervical screening test results are abnormal. If you are in the appropriate age range, of 9-45 years of age, get the HPV vaccine. Plus, it is good practice to use condoms during sex, as well as limit the number of sexual partners.
It’s important for all women to discuss cervical health with their doctor. Call 832- 548-5000 to schedule a well woman exam or a cervical cancer screening with your Legacy OB/GYN provider.