January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and if you didn't know, HPV is the number one cause of cervical cancer in women.
Information for this blog derived from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer among women. In2018, an estimated 570,000 new cases were diagnosed.
However, cervical cancer can be easily prevented. With the right knowledge and prevention methods, cervical cancer can be avoided.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs within the cervix of a female. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant. All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it typically occurs in women over 30. However, not everyone that has a cervix or female reproductive organs identifies as female -- and it's important to include trans men and nonbinary folks in the surrounding cervical cancer.
The number one cause of cervical cancer is HPV
The human papilloma virus, commonly referred to as HPV, is the top cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. HPV usually causes no symptoms, so you can’t tell that you have it.
For most women, HPV will go away on its own. However, if it does not, there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer. And, at least half of sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
HPV is the top risk for cervical cancer. If you have HPV, you should notify your primary care provider and get annually checked by your gynecologist. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include the following:
- If you have HIV or another condition that makes it difficult to fight off health problems
- Using birth control pills for a long time (five years or more)
- Having several sexual partners
- Giving birth to three or more children
Symptoms of cervical cancer
In early stages, cervical cancer may not have any symptoms or signs. Advanced cervical cancer can cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the best way to rule it out is to see your doctor.
Getting screened & tested for cervical cancer
There are a few ways in which you can find out if you have or are at risk for cervical cancer. Two main ways in doing so is getting a Pap smear and an HPV test. A Pap smear looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. An HPV test looks for the virus that can causes these cell changes. Both of these tests can be performed at a doctor's office or clinic.
If you have a cervix, you should begin getting Pap smears at the age of 21. If your Pap test result is normal, your doctor may tell you that you can wait three years until your next Pap test. To learn more about what test should be performed depending on your age, click here, or speak to your medical provider.
Cervical cancer is preventable
Although any kind of cancer is serious, cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable with regular test screenings and vaccines. You can also reduce your risk with doing the following:
- Get the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. The vaccine is recommended for preteens aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given starting at age 9. HPV vaccine also is recommended for everyone up to age 26 years, if they are not vaccinated already.
- Start having regular screening tests once you are 21, and continue to do so yearly.
- Use protection during sex.
How Apicha CHC can help you
At Apicha CHC, we offer a range of STD/STI screening and testing. In addition, we also offer Pap smears/pelvic exams, contraception, and referrals. If you have concerns about cervical cancer or HPV, contact your medical provider. If you're interested in more of our Women's Health Services, click here to learn more.