The dreaded C Word! Cervical cancer is one of the top five common types of cancers affecting a woman’s reproductive organs. However, it is also the easiest type of cancer to prevent with the help of regular check-ups and screenings. Even though cervical cancer sounds scary, it is highly curable when diagnosed and treated early.
Unlike other forms of cancer, cervical cancer is not connected to family genetics. In 99% of the cases diagnosed, it is caused due to HPV or Human Papillomavirus – a common sexually transmitted disease that causes changes in the cervix.
Who Is At Risk?
Frankly, any woman who has ever had sex is at risk to cervical cancer. Women who started having sex at an early age are more at risk, as are women who have had sex with more than one partner. It is important to know that HPV doesn’t always cause cervical cancer and if diagnosed and treated early, HPV is no more dangerous than a regular STD.
However, when HPV goes untreated for a while or becomes a chronic condition, it may cause cervical cancer over a period of time.
Other risk factors include:
- Having HIV, or other immunity related medical condition that makes it difficult for the body to fight off infections.
- Women who are heavy smokers.
- Those who have had Chlamydia, a common STD.
- Being overweight.
- Using birth control pills for over 5 years.
- Giving birth to more than 3 children.
Prevention Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecological cancer to prevent. Regular screening can help diagnose the condition well in time, especially if you go through Pap Smear test to find the pre-cancer cell changes in the cervix that can lead to cervical cancer if not treated, or take a HPV test that looks specifically for human papillomaviorus that cause cell changes.
The key to preventing cervical cancer is to catch the changes in the cervical cells early on, since that would mean the cancer is limited to the cervix and a simple hysterectomy can cure the problem.
Once the cancer spreads to the uterus, the treatment becomes extensive and painful, which is why regular screening is so important.
Treatments and Vaccine
HPV vaccine is also available to prevent cervical cancer. These protect young women against the most common vaginal, cervical and vulvar cancers. These vaccines are given to women as early as 11 to 12 years of age, and up to 26 years of age, before they have any sexual contact and are exposed to HPV. Once exposed to HPV, the vaccine is not as effective.
The most important step to fighting cervical cancer is to have safe sex. A mutually monogamous sexual relationship with a HPV-free partner drastically reduces the risk. The more sexual partners a woman has, the higher her risk to HPV as each of these partners could also have multiple sexual partners that can cause spread of HPV.