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Cervical Cancer – Things you need to know

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, cause most cases of cervical cancer.

How are HPV and cervical cancer related?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, 79 million Americans have it, most in their late teens to early twenties—that’s nearly 25% of the American population. There are over 40 types of the disease and in most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any additional health problems. When the virus doesn’t go away, however, it can cause genital warts and cancer.

Since HPV usually causes no symptoms, most men and women contract HPV and pass it on without knowing it. You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by requesting screenings and receiving a vaccine that protects you from HPV.

How do I prevent HPV and cervical cancer?

The best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated against HPV. Vaccination is available to women age 9 to 26. Depending on your age, it’s typically administered in either two or three different doses over the course of several months.

Get routine Pap tests. Pap tests help your doctor detect precancerous conditions so they can be monitored closely or treated to prevent cervical cancer. You can also request an HPV test to be taken at the same time, called co-testing. The HPV test checks for the virus and is the preferred way to find early cervical cancers or pre-cancers in women 30 and older. During your pap test, cells are collected from the cervix. They are then sent to a lab and observed under a microscope to see if the cells are normal or if any changes are visible. We recommend women begin routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeat them every few years.

Live a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a healthy weight and diet, don’t smoke, and practice safe sex. Using a condom and having fewer sexual partners can significantly reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.

How do I know if I have cervical cancer?

Like HPV, in its early stages, cervical cancer generally does not produce any signs or symptoms. At more advanced stages, cervical cancer can cause irregular vaginal bleeding: after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause. Pelvic pain or painful intercourse as well as watery bloody discharge could indicate cervical cancer as well.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of these signs or symptoms.

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