January is Cervical Health Awareness Month


January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

In the news these days, there are always an abundance of articles and stories about women’s healthcare, but not many address the topic of cervical health. Because January is Cervical Health Awareness Month, we’ll dedicate this post to discussing the most common ailments related to the cervix, including cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV). We’ll also discuss measures you can take to prevent them.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that develops in the lower part of a woman’s uterus, within the cells of the cervix. The good news is that this type of cancer is highly preventable and treatable. It is also rare in the U.S. with less than 200,000 women diagnosed on average per year.

The cancer can be caused by an infection as a result of HPV (more on that below). Other risk factors for developing cervical cancer include cigarette smoking – due to the interaction between the chemicals in cigarette smoke and the cells of the cervix – and the use of oral contraception, which may lessen the likelihood of using condoms and make a person more vulnerable to contracting HPV.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Unfortunately, symptoms of cervical cancer don’t typically show until its advanced stages, which is why it’s so important to practice preventative care.

Once the cancer has progressed, patients typically experience abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge, pelvic pain, and, in some cases, may also experience kidney failure.

Tests That Detect Cervical Cancer

The best thing people can do to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular pap smears during annual exams. In addition, a variety of other tests can help detect cervical cancer:

  • Colposcopy – a pelvic exam using a colposcope to inspect cervix more closely
  • HPV Test – an exam to see if there are HPV cells in the cervix
  • Biopsy – sample of tissue removed to be analyzed under a microscope
  • Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure [LEEP] – Electrified loop of wire to retrieve cervix tissue to be analyzed

If cancer is detected, your provider may order additional blood tests and X-rays to see if it has spread to other areas of the body.

If cancer is diagnosed, the patient is then referred to a gynecologic oncologist who will craft a treatment plan based on the patient’s individual needs. Depending on how advanced the cancer is at the time of diagnosis, treatment may include surgery to remove the cancerous tissue or chemotherapy and/or radiation to shrink or destroy the cancer.

Some providers may also recommend alternate treatments such as clinical trials or other options such as vitamins and meditation to complement traditional treatments.

HPV and Cervical Cancer

HPV is the most frequently diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in the U.S., with nearly 80 percent of all women contracting some form of it in their lifetime. HPV is difficult to detect, as many of its symptoms never surface, but in some patients, it can lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.

Transmitted through vaginal, oral and anal sex; genital touching and childbirth, HPV has no known cure, but often goes away on its own. If symptoms do occur, there are treatments available to minimize them.

To prevent HPV, there is a vaccination available. In addition, practicing safe sexual behaviors such as using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners can minimize your risk.

The HPV vaccine is recommended to be administered around the ages of 11 or 12, but the FDA has approved the use for those as young as age 9 and as old as age 45. Though it’s advised to have the vaccine prior to a person’s first sexual interaction, it can be beneficial to those who have had sex to prevent they strains of HPV they have not already contracted.

What is Cervical Health Awareness Month?

Cervical Health Awareness Month was designated by the U.S. Congress to occur in January each year. Its purpose is to educate the public about cervical health ailments and advocate for preventative treatment. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition has put together a number of helpful resources on their website for those interested.

Consult with a Medical Professional

If you’d like to see a provider about preventative cervical healthcare or have been diagnosed with HPV or cervical cancer and are seeking treatment, request an appointment with our caring providers on our Family Practice page.