Cervical cancer: What every woman should know

Nearly 500,000 women worldwide will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year.

Today, almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another, primarily through sexual contact.

Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer for which there is a screening test, the Pap test, that can find signs of cancer early, when treatment is generally most effective.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and Mount Sinai Health System experts are sharing tips on diagnosis, prevention, risk and treatment options.

Experts Available for Interview:

Stephanie V. Blank, MD, Director, Division of Gynecologic Oncology for the Mount Sinai Health System, Icahn School o21f Medicine at Mount Sinai

Valentin Kolev, MD, Assistant Professor, Division of Gynecologic Oncology for the Mount Sinai Health System, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

According to Dr. Blank, cervical cancer can be prevented.

“Between the HPV vaccine and improved screening options which allow us to detect abnormalities before they turn into cancer, we have the tools to eradicate cervical cancer,” Blank said.

“It is crucially important that we use these tools properly.”

Tests to Diagnose Cervical Cancer

The HPV test detects the virus that can cause these cell changes.

The Pap test looks for pre-cancer or cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if left untreated.

HPV Prevention

You can lower your risk of cervical cancer by lowering your risk of HPV infection by:

Getting vaccinated: The HPV vaccine can prevent infection by the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers.

Avoiding sexual activity: HPV infection of the cervix is the most common cause of cervical cancer. Avoiding sexual activity decreases your risk of HPV.

Using barrier protection or spermicidal gels: Some methods used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) decrease your risk of HPV infection. The use of barrier methods of birth control, such as a condom or spermicide, helps protect against HPV infection.

Other Risks of Cervical Cancer

Smoking

Multiple sexual partners

Using birth control pills for 5 years or more

Secondhand smoke, although the risk is lower than active smoking

Symptoms

Cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms early on. Advanced cervical cancer, however, may cause symptoms such as:

Abnormal vaginal bleeding and unusual discharge

Frequent or urgent need to urinate

Pelvic pain and fatigue

Unexplained weight loss

Pain during intercourse

Treatment

Surgery: Removal of cancer tissue.

Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.

Radiation: Uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.

Immunotherapy: Harnesses the body’s immune system to fight the cancer

Source: Mount Sinai Health System.