Staff Partner, ACS Marco Island
Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix. Gradually, those cells start to develop pre-cancerous changes, but only in some women will this develop into cancer. Having regular Pap tests will detect changes in these cells, and if any changes occur, a doctor will be able to closely monitor the changes with additional Pap tests. A Pap test is a procedure used to collect cells from the cervix so that they can be looked at under a microscope to find cancer and pre-cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society guidelines for the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer, it is recommended that all women start cervical cancer screenings at age 21. Between age 21 and 29, women should have a Pap test every three years. For those between age 30 and 65, a Pap test combined with a HPV test every five years should be
Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most important risk factor related to cervical cancer. HPV is actually a group of more than 150 related viruses. HPV can be spread during skin-to-skin contact, such as during sex. Most HPV infections are common, and in most cases clear on their own over time; but some may become chronic, which can lead to certain cancers such as cervical cancer. There is a HPV vaccination that protects girls and boys from certain types of the HPV virus, two types which cause 70% of all cervical cancers and pre-cancers. Between age 11 and 12, it is recommended for children to receive this vaccine, which is a series of shots. Women 13 to 26 years old, and men 13 to 21 years old who did not get vaccinated at an earlier age are still recommended to be vaccinated. For people 22 to 26 years old, it is important to note that vaccinations at older ages is less effective in lowering cancer risk, and it is important to do it as early on as possible.
Yet another reason to quit smoking, women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to develop cervical cancer. Tobacco by-products have been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke. Researchers believe this causes damage to the DNA of cervix cells, causing them to mutate.
A weakened immune system can also make it hard for the body to fight off the HPV infections. Women with AIDS are at a higher risk for cervical cancer, and this could be the result of a weakened immune system. In this instance a cervical pre-cancer could develop more rapidly than typically seen.
Being overweight, or having a diet lowin fruits and vegetables can also increase the risk of cervical cancer. Women with HPV should be on a high fruits and vegetable diet in order to help their immune system fight off the infection.
Like many cancers, having a family history of cervical cancer, will also put someone at a higher risk of diagnosis. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are two to three times higher than if no one had it.
Lastly, women who took or have mothers (while pregnant) who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriage between 1940 and 1971, seem to develop clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina or cervix more often than would normally be expected. This type of cancer is quite rare for women who haven’t been exposed to DES. It is a low chance of developing this cancer, as about one case in every 1,000 women whose mothers took DES during pregnancy develops this cancer.
With proper screening, cervical cancer that is found early has a likely successful treatment. Found early, it is one of the most successfully treated cancers. In the United States, cervical cancer death rate has declined more than 50% over the last 30 years.
Information in this article is courtesy of cancer.org. Please visit our website for more information on cervical cancer, or other types of cancer related topics. Our local Marco Island office is also available during normal operating hours to assist you with patient services, such as, free of charge wigs, head caps, informational pamphlets, and other resources pertaining to coping with cancer diagnosis and treatments.
This is an ongoing series of columns dedicated to informing the Marco Island community about the American Cancer Society, the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health concern by preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service. The Marco Island American Cancer Society office is located at 583 Tallwood St., Suite 101 and is open daily from 9 AM-5 PM. For more information about volunteering or any of the events mentioned in this column please contact Sue Olszak or Lisa Honig at 239-642-8800 ext. 3890.
Cervical Cancer Quiz: True or False?
- The human papilloma virus (HPV) causes cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer can often be prevented.
- Women need to get a Pap test every year to check for cervical cancer.
- HPV infection can be treated to help prevent cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms right away.
- Women who’ve had any type of hysterectomy cannot get cervical cancer and don’t need to be tested for it.