Got a cervix? Be aware of cervical cancer
By Nicole Brudos Ferrara
While the rate of new cervical cancer cases has been declining for years, National Cancer Institute data indicate that roughly 7.5 per 100,000 women are still diagnosed with this cancer each year. Infection with HPV is the most common cause.
"Women at most risk of cervical cancer are those who have been exposed to HPV," says Kristina Butler, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Mayo Clinic. "HPV is quite prevalent and easy to be exposed to with intimate relations, and really just normal human behavior. The majority of the population has been exposed."
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix.
You can reduce your risk of cervical cancer by getting routine Pap tests to detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated to prevent cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine also can reduce the risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.
Regular screening is important because, if diagnosed early, cervical cancer treatment is often very effective. "If diagnosed in stage 1, the five-year survival rate is well over 90%," says Dr. Butler.
Cervical cancer generally doesn't cause symptoms until it's more advanced. "Women might have some abnormal bleeding ― bleeding between their menstrual cycle or bleeding after intercourse," says Dr. Butler. "Cervical cancer may also cause pelvic pain. Listen to your body and seek out a medical evaluation if you notice anything abnormal."
Treatment of cervical cancer varies depending on the stage when it is diagnosed. "When the cancer is more localized at stage 1, we're very often able to treat with surgery alone and have excellent outcomes," says Dr. Butler. "More advanced stage 3 and 4 cervical cancers would be treated with combined modality therapy ― with chemotherapy and radiation treatment."
More advanced cervical cancers can significantly affect the quality of life of women and their families. "Cancer is a huge stressor," says Dr. Butler. "The treatment can be difficult, and it's important to have a care team that's very supportive.
Chemotherapy and radiation can have side effects that might cause pain and impact sexual function, causing anxiety and depression."
To get the best possible care and support for cervical cancer treatment, look for a provider who follows evidence-based national guidelines and helps you feel comfortable by answering your questions and supporting all your care needs.
Watch Dr. Butler discuss cervical health and the importance of the HPV vaccine in this "Mayo Clinic Q&A" podcast video:
See also these resources: