As part of National Women’s Health Week we are bringing awareness to some key topics in women’s health.
Cervical cancer used to be one of the leading causes of death for women in the United States. However, over the past four decades, these rates have declined significantly due to widespread awareness and use of screenings.
The most common form of cervical cancer starts with precancerous changes within the cervix. These changes can lead to cervical cancer if left untreated. Most precancers of the cervix can be avoided by reducing exposure to HPV, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by the human papillomavirus.
Human papillomavirus is the name of a group of viruses that includes more than 100 different strains or types. More than 30 of these viruses are sexually transmitted. Most people who become infected with HPV will not have any symptoms and will clear the infection on their own. However, left untreated in women, HPV can lead to cervical cancer.
Other factors that may contribute to the risk of developing cervical cancer include:
- Giving birth to many children
- Having many sexual partners
- Experiencing first sexual intercourse at a young age
- Using oral contraceptives
- A weakened immune system
Early symptoms of cervical cancer may not be noticeable. However, some symptoms include vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse. It is important to remember that these symptoms can also be a sign of other problems as well, but you should still see your doctor and have regular Pap tests to eliminate cervical cancer as their cause.
Getting regular Pap tests can save your life. If a Pap test finds precancerous cervical lesions and they are treated early, invasive cervical cancer can usually be prevented and early-stage cancer cured. Regular Pap tests decrease your risk for developing cervical cancer because they can detect precancerous cervical lesions at early, treatable stages.