Understanding Cervical Cancer: Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix cells, located in the lower part of the uterus. The World Health Organization recognizes cervical cancer as the fourth most common cancer in women. According to Cancer.org, cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between 35 and 44 and rarely develops in women younger than 20. However, the average age of diagnosis is 50.

Fortunately, cervical cancer is curable if detected early. So let’s dive into some information to help you spot the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Causes

The exact cause of cervical cancer remains unclear. However, we know that cervical cancer occurs when mutations change the way cells grow, causing them to multiply abnormally and accumulate to form tumors. We do know that many cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that affects the cervix. It can also cause cancer in other parts of your body, like the vagina, vulva, anus, penis or throat. There are many different types of HPV, and some are more likely to cause cancer than others.

Cervical Cancer Prevention

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 93 percent of cervical cancers can be prevented. Here’s how:

Vaccination – Because more cervical cancers are related to HPV, HPV vaccination is recommended for all women. The HPV vaccine can be given to females starting at nine years. Since the HPV vaccination was first recommended in 2006, HPV infections, which can cause cervical cancer, have decreased by 81 percent in young adult women.

Regular screenings – Cervical cancer screening is recommended for women starting at age 25. Screening tests can potentially identify cervical cancer by detecting abnormal cervical cell changes. Once found, these pre-cancers can be treated before they develop into cervical cancer.

Screening for cervical cancer typically involves a pap smear and an HPV test. The doctor will examine the vagina and cervix during the pap test and collect cells and mucus for lab analysis. The HPV test can be done as a co-test with the pap smear, using the same swab or a separate swab.

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Severe symptoms do not appear with cervical cancer until cancer has advanced. While there are some mild symptoms in the early stages, many women assume it is related to their menstrual cycle. The following are common symptoms of cervical cancer:

  • Bleeding or blood spotting between periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or lasts longer than usual
  • Persistent and unexplained pelvic and/or back pain
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding or pain after or during intercourse

If you experience these symptoms, be sure to discuss them with your primary care provider.

Cervical Cancer Treatment

Cervical cancer treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. For early-stage cervical cancer, surgery or radiation may be combined with chemotherapy. The following are common methods for cervical cancer treatment:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted Drug Therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology is dedicated to providing the best gynecologic cancer treatment options. Contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology today for screening and treatment options if you are at high risk for cervical cancer and want to learn more about HPV testing. More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.