What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the growth of cancerous cells in the cervix, the organ that connects the vagina to the lower part of the uterus. This cancer is primarily caused by strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), an STI that can be detected during a routine Pap smear. Women can reduce their risk of cervical cancer by getting the recommended screening tests and receiving a vaccination that protects against HPV infection.
The American Cancer Society estimates 12,990 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2016. Many more cervical pre-cancers are discovered than actual cancers. While this type of cancer used to be one of the primary causes of cancer death for women in the U.S., increased use of the Pap test has caused the cervical cancer death rate to decrease by more than 50% over the last 40 years.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
Though the exact mechanical causes of cervical cancer are unknown, it is clear that HPV’s role is central. Because many women contract HPV and never have cervical cancer, medical professionals believe that environment and lifestyle choices may also have a significant role in elevating or decreasing risk. Risk factors for cervical cancer include the following:
- Having many sexual partners (increased risk for HPV)
- Having early sexual activity (increased risk for HPV)
- Other STIs (increased risk for HPV)
- Weak immune system combined with HPV
- Diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Being overweight
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives
- IUD use
- Having had three or more full-term pregnancies
- Being 17 or younger at first full-term pregnancy
- Having a mother or sister who had cervical cancer
- Low socioeconomic status (which may result in a woman not receiving regular Pap tests)
Cervical cancer is most common in a woman’s midlife (between the ages of 20 and 50). However, older women can still be affected. In fact, approximately one in six cases are in women over 65.
Are there symptoms of cervical cancer?
In its early stages, cervical cancer is unlikely to produce any symptoms; this is one reason why having a routine Pap smear is so important. As the cancer advances, individuals may notice the following signs or symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between menstrual periods or post-menopause
- Vaginal discharge that has a foul odor; possibly containing blood
- Painful intercourse
If you experience these symptoms, see a physician for an evaluation. These symptoms do not necessarily indicate cervical cancer.
How do you screen for and detect cervical cancer?
The primary method of detecting cervical cancer is the Pap test. In this test, cells are collected from the wall of the cervix and tested in a lab for abnormalities. An HPV DNA test may also be ordered if a Pap test is abnormal. Further testing for cervical cancer may include other forms of biopsy.
The Stages of Cervical Cancer
Oncologists at Jordan Valley Cancer Center use the following stages to describe cervical cancer’s progression:
- Stage I: At this point, cancer is confined to the cervix.
- Stage II: By Stage II, cancer may be in the upper portion of the vagina, in addition to the cervix.
- Stage III: During Stage III, cancer has moved to the lower portion of the vagina or to the pelvic side wall.
- Stage IV: At this stage, cancer has spread to other organs, possibly including the bladder or rectum.
CT, MRI or PET scan may be used to help stage the cancer.
How do you treat cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer may be addressed with a variety of treatment modalities, depending on the stage. The oncologists at Jordan Valley Cancer Center use a range of therapies, sometimes combined with one another, to help lead the way toward the best possible outcome. Select a procedure to learn more:
- Oral Chemotherapy Dispensing
- Radiation Therapy
- Minimally Invasive & Laparoscopic Surgery
The Patient Experience at Jordan Valley Cancer Center
Health care providers at Jordan Valley Cancer Center are committed to serving each and every patient’s unique needs in a way that delivers the best possible outcome. With cancer specialists from diverse backgrounds partnering together under one roof, patients have access to many more options than they might find in a regular hospital setting. Furthermore, patients at Jordan Valley Cancer Center receive a Nurse Navigator, who serves as an educator and advocate that helps them understand their options. To learn more about the patient experience at Jordan Valley Cancer Center, please contact us at 801-601-2260.