Welcome to 2022! I've decided this year will be the year that I learn more about my body. Even at my age, I don't really know everything that I should be paying attention to. After recently talking to my friends at The Christ Hospital, I learned that January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. I knew that when I got my Pap smear every year they checked for cervical cancer, but what else do I need to know? And how do I know that I might have cervical cancer outside of getting a Pap smear? Are there signs? To find out more information about cervical cancer, the cause, and the treatments, I reached out to Hannah Eppensteiner, CNP, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Gynecologic Surgery.
What causes cervical cancer?
Hannah explained, "The biggest risk factor to cervical cancer is the human papillomaviruses, or more commonly called HPV. HPV has over 150 related viruses. This is spread from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact, most commonly during sexual activity involving the vagina, anus, or mouth. HPV is very common and often is cleared by our bodies independently, but two HPV types cause 70% of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions."
What are the warning signs of cervical cancer?
There are many different symptoms or warning signs for cervical cancer. Communication with your doctor is key when it comes to detection. "Common signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include: abnormal vaginal bleeding (bleeding after menopause, bleeding in between periods, heavier bleeding), bleeding after intercourse, pelvic pain, or pain during or after sex," Hannah said. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, please make sure you consult your OBGYN and schedule a Pap smear.
"Pap smears are a screening test that can find abnormal cells or precancerous cells from the cervix," Hannah stated. "This can be done during a pelvic exam with your OBGYN or primary care provider. HPV co-testing will be done from your Pap smear. If your Pap smear is abnormal or the HPV test is positive, this could mean more follow-up visits or tests to look for a pre-cancer or cancer. There are outpatient procedures that can be performed to treat any pre-cancers that might be found."
Preventing cervical cancer
Getting a regular Pap smear is key to detecting cervical cancer, but I was also encouraged to learn that cervical cancer can be prevented by getting the HPV vaccine. Be sure to check with your OBGYN or primary care provider to see if you qualify for the HPV vaccine. Cervical cancer can be treated, but if left untreated, it can lead to metastatic disease.
Learn more about cancer prevention or find a cancer expert near you.