Regular Screenings Crucial for Improved Outcomes

January 23, 2024

According to the American Cancer Society, about 13,960 new cases of invasive cervical cancer were diagnosed in 2023. It is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 with the average age at diagnosis being 50.

Rebecca Lewis, DO, chief medical officer, offers important information about cervical cancer prevention and treatment.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix.  The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and is situated at the top of the vagina. The cells in the cervix do not suddenly change into cancer. Instead, the normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer. These pre-cancerous changes can be diagnosed as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) and dysplasia.

Can a woman of any age get cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer tends to affect younger patients, but women of any age can develop it.

How is cervical cancer detected?

The cervical cancer death rate dropped significantly with the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early – when it's small and easier to cure.

The human papilloma virus, HPV, is a virus that is transmitted from person to person, usually by contact with mucous membranes (the skin that usually covers the inside of the mouth and genital region). There are also some subtypes that are associated with an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.

In recent years, the HPV test has been approved as another screening test for cervical cancer since almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. The HPV test looks for infection by high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to cause pre-cancers and cancers of the cervix. The HPV test can be used alone (primary HPV test) or at the same time as the Pap test (called a co-test).

Have a conversation with your doctor to get the proper screening for you.

What are some of the risk factors for cervical cancer?

Several factors can increase the risk of developing cervical cancer, including:

  • HPV infection
  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Long-term use of birth control pills
  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Early sexual activity

What are some of the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Early-stage cervical cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain or pain during sex
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge

Can cervical cancer be prevented?

There are a number of ways to reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

  • HPV vaccination
  • Regular Pap tests
  • Safe-sex practices
  • Quit smoking

What types of treatment are available for this cancer?

First, if abnormalities in the Pap test are found, a biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. If cancer is confirmed, treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, depending on the stage of cancer.

Early detection through regular screenings is crucial for effective treatment and improved outcomes. It's important for individuals to consult with their physician for personalized advice and information tailored to their specific situation.