Early Signs of Cervical Cancer

pap smearAbout 13,000 woman will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year. Of that 10,000 up to 4,100 will die and that is just in the United States. Worldwide, there will be more than 500,000 women affected. One of the greatest tragedies of cervical cancer is that it often strikes young women. It is important to know the early signs of cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer may affected women when they have young children or before they have had any children. The treatment will often make having children impossible. Early detection is the best weapon we have against this killer of women.

Cervical cancer has been getting a lot of press lately. There is a new vaccine that will help prevent a certain form of cervical cancer. It is being touted as the new penicillin, the wonder drug of the 21st century. Clearly it is a great new weapon in the doctor’s arsenal against cervical cancer but it should not be treated as if it is the end all. It can only prevent about 70% of the cervical cancer cases. While it is a great discovery, it is not and should not take the place of the yearly PAP test.

The vaccine is made to be given to young girls and women. For the rest of us we need to rely on the PAP smear and our own observations to provide us with the best chance of early diagnosis.

The early signs of cervical cancer are:

• Vaginal bleeding when there shouldn’t be any, after sex, after menopause and between regular periods
• Vaginal discharge that can have a foul smell and be watery or bloody
• Pain in the pelvic area
• Pain during sexual intercourse

Things that increase your risk of contracting cervical cancer:
• Multiple sexual partners increases your chances of being infected with HPV
• Having sex before the age of 18
• Having a compromised immune system
• STD’s
• Smoking

It is important that you start having PAP smears within 3 years of when you become sexually active or by the age of 21. For women ages 21-29 you should have a PAP test every three years, from 30-65 every two years to 3 years unless it is combined with a HPV Test and then 5 years is the suggested time frame. Between the ages of 65-70, you may stop having PAP tests if you have had three normaltests in a row and no abnormal tests in the last 10 years.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have any of these risk factors, your doctor may suggest more frequent PAP tests:
• A diagnosis of cervical cancer or a PAP smear that showed precancerous cells
• Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth
• HIV infection
• Weakened immune system due to organ transplant, chemotherapy or chronic corticosteroid use

If discovered early the chances of a complete cure are very good. Treatment can involve radiation, chemotherapy, radical trachelectomy, and hysterectomy. If the cancer is discovered early then the removal of the cervix with a check of the pelvic lymph glands may be enough. If the cancer is slightly more advanced, the addition of radiation and chemotherapy may be advisable. If it is advanced, a radical hysterectomy with radiation and/or chemotherapy may be the best course of action.

The diagnosis of cervical cancer doesn’t need to be a death sentence but it is important to do everything you can to make sure that it is diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

American Cancer Society

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pap_test_cytology#mediaviewer/File:Adenocarcinoma_on_pap_test_1.jpg  Creative commons License  Nephron


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