Cervical Cancer

The National Cancer Society estimates that 12,306 new cases of cervical cancer were discovered in the U.S. in 2014. Worldwide, cervical cancer is the third most common kind of cancer among women, but it is much less common in the U.S. The rate of cervical cancer, and the risk of dying from cervical cancer, have both decreased significantly in the U.S. over the past two decades.

Having regular Pap smears is the best thing you can do to reduce your risks.

Risk factors

There are a number of risk factors for cervical cancer. Here are some of the most common:

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection is perhaps the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Chronic infection with a high-risk form of HPV creates a strong risk for cervical cancer. There is a vaccine for HPV, and tests to screen for infection with HPV.
  • Chlamydia infection also can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Women with chlamydia may not have any symptoms, and may not know they have chlamydia until they are tested for it by their health care providers.
  • Smoking increases the chances of cervical cancer in two ways. First, it exposes the body to cancer-causing chemicals. These chemicals can be found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke, according to the American Cancer Society. Second, it reduces the ability of the immune system to fight off HPV infections. Women who smoke are twice as likely to have cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.
  • Other factors which compromise the immune system can also increase chances of cervical cancer. HIV or drugs which suppress the immune system (for example, those given in the case of an organ transplant) are among the factors which correlate with higher risk of cervical cancer.
  • Women with family members who’ve had cervical cancer may have 2 to 3 times higher risk of cervical cancer.

There are other risk factors, and there are also lifestyle choices that can reduce the chances of cervical cancer. For example, maintaining a healthy weight and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables are associated with less risk of cervical cancer.

Detection and treatment

Fortunately, regular Pap smears allow women to identify pre-cancerous cervical cell changes and early stage cervical cancer easily. Since regular Pap smears have become routine in the U.S., most cervical cancers are caught early, when they are treatable.

In addition to regular Pap smears, cervical cancers may also be identified when women experience symptoms such as pain during intercourse or unusual vaginal bleeding. Tests like biopsies and MRI tests can give more information and help your health care provider make the best recommendations for treatment.

Treatments for cervical cancer vary depending on the needs of the individual. If you are concerned about cervical cancer, you should ask your healthcare provider.

Information in this post comes from the American Cancer Society. You can download more information at their website.