Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States. However, in the past 40 years, the number of cases of cervical cancer and the number of deaths from cervical cancer have decreased significantly.  

However, in the United States alone 13,000 women are diagnosed every year of cervical cancer, and 4,000 die every year of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.

What is Cervical Cancer?

When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30.

What causes Cervical Cancer?

The Human papillomavirus (HPV) is found in about 99% of cervical cancers. There are over 100 different types of HPV, most of which are considered low-risk and do not cause cervical cancer. High-risk HPV types may cause cervical cell abnormalities or cancer.

What is HPV?

HPV or the Human Papillomavirus is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer. HPV is estimated to be the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, by age 50 approximately 80% of women have been infected with some type of HPV. The majority of these women infected do NOT develop cervical cancer.

What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex.
Other symptom may include:
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain
  • Painful urination
If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.

How can I prevent Cervical Cancer?

The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to have regular screening tests

There are two screening tests: Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic.
  • The Pap test - looks for pre-cancers cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.
  • The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes. You should start at the age of 30.  Between the ges 30-65 talk to your doctor about which testing option is right for you— a pap test, an HPV test or both (which is known as co-testing).
The Vaccine -  The HPV vaccine protects against nine types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers - as well as anal and penile cancer in men.
  • HPV vaccination is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9.
  • HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone through age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
  •  However, some adults age 27 through 45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination. HPV vaccination in this age range provides less benefit, as more people have already been exposed to HPV.
If vaccination is started before age 15, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6 to 12 months apart. For people who start the series after their 15th birthday, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.

HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections, but does not treat existing infections or diseases. This is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV. You should get screened for cervical cancer regularly, even if you received an HPV vaccine.

source: CDC

The following steps may also help lower your risk for cervical cancer—
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Use condoms during sex. (although they are not completely effective because the virus can be present on areas of the skin not covered by the condom).
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

If You Are Older Than 65

Your doctor may tell you that you don’t need to be screened anymore if—
  • You have had normal screening test results for several years, or
  • You have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroid.

Read inspirational stories of women with cervical cancer and/or HPV - HERE

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