Cervical Cancer Awareness: Early Detection Saves Lives
When it comes to your physical well-being, knowing for sure everything’s fine is always better than assuming. Unfortunately, too many women pass on the opportunity to guarantee a clean bill of health, consequently allowing small, manageable conditions to spiral into serious and even life-threatening complications. This Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, learn how routine screening can help stop the spread of cervical cancer and ensure many more happy and healthy years.
About Cervical Cancer
Although the Centers for Disease Control reports the rate of cervical cancer diagnoses has declined since 1999, this disease is still widespread. In 2023, the American Cancer Society estimated about 13,960 new cases of cervical cancer would be diagnosed along with an estimated 4,310 deaths.
Symptoms are often not evident until the cancer has advanced and spread to nearby tissue. Some common symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, and pain in the pelvic region. Some signs of advanced cervical cancer may include swelling in the legs, trouble urinating or having bowel movements, and blood in urine.
The American Cancer Society reports cervical cancer was once among the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in American women. However, that rate has significantly dropped thanks to increased awareness of early screening methods.
Screening & Prevention
The best way to detect and prevent invasive cervical cancer is to regularly screen for it. Finding it early gives your physicians a greater opportunity to remove it while it’s small and hasn’t had a chance to spread. Screening methods may include:
- HPV test — Cited by the American Cancer Society as the preferred cervical cancer screening method for patients aged 25-65, an HPV test detects the presence of high-risk forms of human papillomavirus (HPV) known to cause cervical cancer. During this test, your physician will collect a tissue sample from the cervix and examine the cells for pieces of the virus’s DNA.
- Pap test — Also known as the Papanicolaou test, a Pap test collects cervical cells with a small brush or cotton swab to be examined for signs of cervical cancer or pre-cancer.
Both Pap tests and HPV tests can be conducted at the same time and are effective ways to detect cervical cancer early in its development. Beginning at age 21, women should schedule a Pap test every three years, continuing through age 64. Similarly, HPV tests should be scheduled every five years beginning at age 30 and continuing through age 64. For women aged 65 and older, no screening is needed if three negative tests have been received in the previous 10 years.