In the case of cervical cancer
, there is some good news. Over the past 40 years, the mortality rate for cervical cancer patients has decreased by over 50%, thanks to the increased prevalence of the Pap test. Even better: In many cases, cervical cancer can be avoided altogether. But there is also some bad news, as cervical cancer screening rates have fallen in recent years.
According to City of Hope experts and the latest available data, here are five things every woman (and man) should know about cervical cancer:
1. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that causes about 99% of cervical cancer cases. There are over 100 different types of the virus, the most common being HPV 16 and HPV 18, which lead to approximately 70% of all known cervical cancers. About 14 million new infections are diagnosed every year. Many cases of HPV clear up on their own, but persistent infections are what can cause serious health issues.
2. Cervical cancer is often preventable
The HPV vaccine is an important preventive measure. There are three different types of Food and Drug Administration-approved vaccines. The first one is Gardasil, which was approved in 2006. The newer version, Gardasil 9, was approved in 2014, and Cervarix was approved in 2009.
Gardasil protects against HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are the most common types, and Gardasil 9 adds additional protection against several other high-risk HPVs. Gardasil 9 has also been shown to be 97% effective in preventing cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer, as well as additional types of high-risk HPVs that it targets.
And now, more people will be able to reap the benefits of HPV vaccines. For years, Gardasil 9 was only recommended for young men and women, ages 9 to 26, but that age range was expanded to 45
3. Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely to be screened for cervical cancer
Sadly, studies have shown that lesbians and bisexual women are less likely to undergo routine health services, including Pap tests. There are several reasons for this, including bad experiences with health care providers, misinformation about the necessity for cervical cancer screenings and fear of discrimination from health care providers.
4. There are three tests used to screen for cervical cancer
Three types of testing can detect cervical cancer: A Pap test, an HPV test and a Pap and HPV contest. According to the most recent cervical cancer screening guidelines from the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer screening should now start at age 25, and women 25 to 65 should have a primary HPV test every five years. If primary HPV testing is not available, screening may be condusted using a co-test that combines an HPV test with a Pap test every five years, or a Pap test alone every three years. People who have had the HPV test should still follow these screening guidelines.
Women over 65 who have had normal scrrening results for 10 years and no history of CIN2 or more serious diagnosis within the past 25 years need not undergo cervical cancer anymore. People who have had a total hysterectomy should also stop screening unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer. People who have had a hysterectomy without removal of the cervix should continue to undergo cervical cancer screening.
5. Cervical cancer may not cause obvious symptoms at first
Some women have no obvious symptoms before being diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is why it is so important to maintain a consistent Pap and pelvic exam schedule, regardless of whether or not you’re experiencing pain, discomfort or any other issues.
The most common symptom that some women do experience is abnormal bleeding. For those who still have their periods, any bleeding in between periods is considered abnormal. Women with irregular periods may have a harder time distinguishing abnormal bleeding, so it’s important for all women to pay close attention to their bodies. Only you can recognize what is out of the ordinary for you. Everyone is different, so if something doesn’t seem quite right, seek medical attention.