Today we're going to be talking about cervical cancer symptoms, signs, and very importantly, the prevention. In the United States, 14,000 patients get cervical cancer each year and 4,300 patients die from cervical cancer each year. Worldwide, it's an even bigger issue because over 260,000 patients globally die each year. The interesting thing is that the virus responsible for causing most cervical cancer, 80% of the population is actually exposed to it in the United States. The good news is that cervical cancer is preventable as long as patients have access to two things.
What is the Cervix?
The cervix is a part of the female reproductive anatomy. It is the lowest part of the uterus or the womb. The cervix is about one inch long and it's shaped like a cylinder. In fact, the cervix is the part of the uterus to which OBGYNs refer when pregnant ladies are delivering babies and they say the lady is this many centimeters dilated. They're talking about the cervix when they're talking about that dilated cylinder at the bottom of the uterus. Cervical cancer is more common than it should be and the most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV, the human papillomavirus.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
If you have cervical cancer, you can get abnormal vaginal bleeding so you may have bleeding, even when you're not on your menstrual cycle. You may also have some spotting or some bleeding after sexual intercourse. Other symptoms of cervical cancer will include pain especially pelvic pain and if that cervical cancer has spread or has become very invasive, you can even get kidney failure. This is because the cervical tumor can actually block the flow of urine from the kidneys. So these are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, but the goal is to prevent cervical cancer so you never had to endure these signs and symptoms.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
So how do we prevent cervical cancer? We do so with screening and prevention. And our two main tools are the pap smear and the HPV vaccination.
HPV is also known as human papillomavirus. It's actually a sexually transmitted infection, it's an STI and it's the most common sexually transmitted infection. The tricky thing about HPV is that if you have it and you're a carrier, you likely have no symptoms. So if you're someone who has had an abnormal pap smear and they told you it's because you got HPV, please don't automatically be mad at your partner because your partner was likely a carrier who had zero symptoms, no way of knowing.
Are you a survivor of cervical cancer or have you had a scare with an abnormal pap smear? If so, please share your story by commenting down below.
79 million Americans have HPV and it's estimated that 14 million more will get HPV this year. So again, HPV is a sexually transmitted infection. It comes from skin-to-skin sexual contact. That means you can get it from vaginal sex, from anal sex, from oral sex, even from hand to genital contact. You cannot get it from things like sitting on a toilet. That is a myth. To prevent getting HPV, abstinence from all sexual activity is, of course, the best way.
Using condoms or barrier methods can help to prevent HPV but it's no guarantee. One of the greatest tools we have now is the HPV vaccination which is now available and actually recommended in order to prevent HPV infection and it's been proven to be very effective in preventing cervical cancer. 99.7% of cervical cancers are linked to HPV. So what does that mean? If we can actually eradicate HPV or get more and more people vaccinated, we can severely decrease the amount of cervical cancer.
HPV Vaccination Recommendations
So the HPV vaccination is recommended between the ages of 9 and 26 years of age. And actually, pediatricians start to give HPV to most patients between the ages of 11 and 12. If you are younger than 15, you should get two doses of the HPV vaccination, six months apart.
And if you are older than 15 years of age, you should get three doses of the vaccination within six months. Now you can get the HPV vaccination as young as 9 months or as old as 26 years of age. And now there have been some randomized controlled studies suggesting that the HPV vaccination is also safe up to 45 years of age.
Let me ask you this. What do you think about offering this HPV vaccination at such a young age? At 11 or even as young as 9 years old. Should parents get their young kids vaccinated against this sexually transmitted infection? Or is that too young? I want you to comment and tell me what you think.
I'll tell you what I think. Because both men and women are carriers of HPV which causes cervical cancer, it is important for both males and females to watch this video and to protect themselves against the HPV virus via the vaccination.
The pap smear is another tool that can prevent cervical cancer and it can detect cervical cancer at an early stage. The pap smear is the test that ladies get when they go to their gynecologist's office. When you get a pap smear, your gynecologist will insert a speculum. It's a tool that shaped pretty much like a duck's beak and your gynecologist will examine your cervix. He or she will also use a tool to take samples from the cells of the cervix. Now your gynecologist can use a speculum to examine your cervix even when he or she is not actually doing a pap smear.
So make sure when you're getting your exams, you asked specifically, am I getting a pap smear today? Am I being screened for cervical cancer? So once this tool is used with a pap smear and those sample cells are taken, then the pathologist is able to look at those cells under the microscope and determine if you have healthy cervical tissue or if you have some cervicitis or some inflammation or infection or if you actually have abnormal cells that are either precancerous or if you have outright cervical cancer.
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Now, it is recommended that ladies get pap smears at least by the age of 21, even if they're not sexually active at all. And if you are sexually active, then you certainly need to consult your gynecologist or first consult your primary care physician to find out when you need your first pap smear and how often. It used to be recommended that pap smears were done every single year. Now the recommendations vary.
Depending on your risks, you may only need a pap smear every three years. But again, make sure you consult your gynecologist or start with your primary care physician to find out how often you need the pap smear. Pap smears again are very important because they detect cancer cells at an early stage so you can actually catch cervical cancer when it's in a precancerous state and this is another very effective tool for preventing cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
If you do actually develop cervical cancer, there are treatments. If it's caught at an early stage, you may be able to have a certain procedure where those cancerous cells are removed with something called the LEEP procedure. Make sure you consult your gynecologist to find out what's best for you.
If the stage of cancer is further progressed, then you may actually need surgery or even chemotherapy and radiation. But again, the key is prevention. So please consult your physician and make sure you take care of your cervical health and be aware of these cervical cancer symptoms. It is very important for ladies to be proactive and to take care of cervical health. It's also important to take care of all health. I want you to download 10 Healthy Habits for a Better You and a Better Life for a checklist for all of your health activities. Whatever you do, do your best to live your healthiest, happiest life.