What is cervical cancer and who is at risk?
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
Who is at risk?
All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it is most often diagnosed between the ages of 35-44.
The main cause of cervical cancer is long-lasting infection with certain types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection.
Other factors such as a woman’s environment and lifestyle choices also play a role. One such factor is smoking. Women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer. One reason is that smoking decreases the immune system’s ability to fight HPV. Another reason is that tobacco by-products and substances can damage the DNA of cervix cells.
Diet and weight
Women with a poor diet (low in fruits and vegetables) or who are overweight are also more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Women who have had three or more full-term pregnancies are also at an increased risk. Researchers do not know why. Some studies show that it could be related to the fluctuating hormone levels of pregnancy and/or the weakened immune system during pregnancy. Additionally, women whose first full-term pregnancy took place before the age of seventeen have a higher risk level.
Having a family history of cervical cancer also increases a woman’s risk for developing the disease.
Early Warning Signs
- Light bleeding or spotting between periods
- Changes in vaginal discharge: watery, foul-smelling or more than usual
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding during or after sex or after a pelvic exam
- Increased or extended menstrual bleeding
- Unexplained pelvic or back pain
- Postmenapausal bleeding
A woman can reduce her risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests.
Two screenings can help find cervical cancer early:
- Pap Test (also called a Pap Smear) involves collecting cells from the cervix.
- HPV Test detects the presence of Human Papillomavirus which, if chronic, can lead to the development of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women, but it develops over time. So, it is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Approximately 90% of cervical cancer deaths occur in the developing world or low and middle-income countries.
For more information on cervical cancer and how it pertains to you, it is important to speak with your primary care physician. Interested in learning more about women’s health? Check out our blog: 5 Things Every Woman Should Know About Her Health.