We all fear the big "C" word, but a little knowledge can go a long way in prevention, especially when we are talking about cervical cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer can often be detected early and it is one of the most successfully treatable cancers out there. However, that does not mean we can just kick back and relax. It's time to arm ourselves with information so we know what to look for when it comes to cervical cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatments!
Cervical cancer usually strikes middle-aged women, and is one of the most common causes of cancer death for women in America. Talk about a midlife crisis, right? Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix (or the lower part of the uterus). The normal cells morph over time into pre-cancerous cells that ultimately develop into cancer. This is not an instant development — it can take months or even years for full-blown cancer to develop. There are two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Nearly 90 percent of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which form in the transformation zone of the uterus (where the part of the cervix closest to the body joins with the part closest to the vagina). Although adenocarcinomas are more uncommon, they have gradually increased in the last 30 years or so. Adenocarcinomas are cancers that grow from mucus-producing gland cells.
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There are many risk factors associated with cervical cancer so if any of these apply to you, make sure you stay up to date on your pap smears! Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for middle-aged women. Smoking, immunosuppression, chlamydia, and long-term use of oral contraceptives or intrauterine devices (IUDs) can also increase your chance of acquiring cervical cancer. Lifestyle choices like a diet low in fruits and vegetables can also impact your likelihood of contracting cancer, and elements such as obesity, having multiple full-term pregnancies, and even living in poverty can have a negative impact. Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for more risk factors associated with cervical cancer.
In order to prevent cervical cancer, it is essential that you stick to your annual gynecologist appointment. Pap tests are a necessary component to preventing and diagnosing cervical cancer, especially in its pre-cancerous stages. Many oncologists work to treat pre-cancer before it has the chance to develop any further. While some pre-cancerous cells will eventually die off on their own, ridding the body of them is one tried-and-true way to guarantee the cessation of any more cancerous growths. Treating cervical cancer can be done in a variety of ways. The most popular methods include: surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. After treatment, make sure that you remain in contact with your doctor and any specialists in order to maximize your emotional and physical wellbeing, and minimize your likelihood of cancer recurrence.
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The American Cancer Society estimates that about 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2015, and that over 4,000 women will die as a result. However, increased use of the pap test has led to a drastic decrease in deaths caused by cervical cancer, so make sure you are keeping up with your annual OBGYN appointments, ladies! For more information on cervical cancer, check out our sources: