08 Jan 2020
What You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer
Years ago, cervical cancer was the number one cause of cancer-related death for women in the United States. Fortunately, early detection and treatment have improved dramatically over the last 40 years, reducing the mortality rate. Cervical cancer is preventable – a Pap smear can find precancerous changes in the cervix and an HPV test can determine if you carry the virus that puts you at risk for development of cervical cancer.
How does HPV cause cancer?
When you’re exposed to genital human papillomavirus (HPV), your immune system usually prevents the virus from doing serious harm. But as time goes on, the virus can lead to the conversion of normal cells on the surface of the cervix into cancerous cells.
At first, cells may only show signs of a viral infection. Eventually, the cells may develop precancerous changes. This is known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, which usually goes away spontaneously, but in some cases it may progress to invasive cervical cancer.
It’s not clear why some people are more likely to develop cervical cancer. Some types of HPV are simply more aggressive than are others. Cigarette smoking, being overweight, and long-term use of oral contraceptives also increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Most women do not have any signs or symptoms of a precancer. In many women with early-stage cervical cancer, symptoms typically do appear. In women with advanced and metastatic cancers, the symptoms may be more severe depending on the tissues and organs to which the disease has spread. The cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer, which is why women need to seek medical care if they have a new symptom that does not go away.
Any of the following could be signs or symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
- Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
- Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic and/or back pain
Please keep in mind (before you go down the rabbit hole of worry) that many of these things can happen commonly in perimenopause and menopause and are nothing serious. But better to be safe than sorry!Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years. If this is you…get yourself scheduled for a check-up!… Click To Tweet
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
A Pap test can find cell changes to the cervix caused by HPV. HPV tests find the virus and help healthcare providers know which women are at highest risk for cervical cancer. Pap and HPV tests (either alone or in combination) are recommended for women over 30: each woman should ask her health care provider how often she should be screened and which tests are right for her.
Treatment of cervical cancer
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage (there are 4 plus sub-stages of these). Treatments can range from freezing the abnormal area to hysterectomy and chemotherapy. Options depend on how advanced the cancer is and whether or not you wish to retain fertility.
Prevention of cervical cancer
HPV vaccines can help prevent infection from both high risk HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer and low risk types that cause genital warts. The CDC recommends all boys and girls get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12 as the vaccine produces a stronger immune response when taken during the preteen years. For this reason, up until age 14, only two doses are the vaccine are required. The vaccine is available for all males and females through age 45 but, for those 15 and older, a full three-dose series is needed. HPV vaccination has been approved for use with males and females through age 45 and updated cervical cancer screening guidelines now include an option for HPV primary testing (translation: an HPV test done alone without a Pap as a co-test).
This information is provided for YOU to do your due diligence to make your OWN decision about vaccinations, not as fuel for a vaccine debate.
Does hormone therapy cause cervical cancer?
It is clear that HPV causes cervical cancer, but what is less well understood is the relationship between estrogen receptors and the disease. Some women are wary of HRT because it has been reported in the media that it can increase your risk of developing cancer. Research has not shown that BHRT or HRT causes cervical cancer. There is also no evidence that HRT or vaginal estrogen after treatment for cervical cancer stimulates your cervical cancer to grow again.
For more information and resources, click this link.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Dr. Anna is the author of Perimenopause: The Savvy Sister’s Guide to Hormone Harmony. Order your copy at www.perimenopausebook.com.
Dr. Anna is available for 1-1 consultations. Find out more at www.drannagarrett.com/lets-