By Dr. Rachel Robinson, Medical Director OB/GYN
Every year in the United States, more than 13,000 people are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Before the end of 2021, more than 4,200 will have died from the disease. January is designated Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to raise awareness about the role regular screenings play in cervical health.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small percentage of people, the virus can survive for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancerous.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the most common causes of cancer death in this country. 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 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.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Heavy discharge
- Increased urinary frequency
- Pain while urinating
- Pelvic pain not related to a menstrual cycle
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. Use condoms during sex, as well as limit the number of sexual partners.
When discovered early, cervical cancer is highly treatable and often associated with a long survival rate. Contact your Legacy health provider or OB/GYN physician with any questions about your cervical health. Call 832-580-5000 to schedule an appointment.