Cervical Cancer

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Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer, thanks to the availability of screening tests and a vaccine that protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), a major cause of the disease.

Cervical Cancer

Causes and Risk Factors

The primary cause of cervical cancer is a persistent infection with certain strains of HPV, a sexually transmitted infection. While most HPV infections are harmless and resolve spontaneously, some can lead to cancer over time. Other risk factors include:

  • Smoking
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Early sexual activity

Symptoms

In its early stages, cervical cancer may not cause any symptoms. As the cancer progresses, women may experience:

  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

Screening and Diagnosis

Screening tests play a crucial role in detecting cervical cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. The most common screening tests include:

  • Pap test (Pap smear): Checks for precancerous or cancerous cells on the cervix.
  • HPV DNA test: Identifies the virus that can lead to these cell changes.

If these tests indicate abnormal results, further diagnostic tests, such as a biopsy, may be recommended to confirm the presence of cancer.

Treatment

The treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, including the stage of the cancer, overall health, and personal preferences. Options may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.

Prevention

Preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer:

  • HPV vaccination: Recommended for both girls and boys to protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.
  • Regular screening: Helps detect and treat any precancerous conditions before they develop into cancer.
  • Safe sex practices: Using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners can decrease the risk of HPV infection.
  • Avoid smoking: Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.
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