Cervical cancer is currently the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide. As a disease that develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer — meaning awareness can save lives through early detection and diagnosis.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and the procedures available today makes it possible to reduce the risk of getting it. Every woman should know the importance of getting tested and understand the simplicity, availability and normalcy of the procedure.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus.
A large majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus infection (HPV). There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. In some women, however, the virus contributes to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms, which is why regular screening through Pap tests is crucial for diagnosing the disease. Symptoms at more advanced stages of cervical cancer include:
- Bleeding between periods of after menopause
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Watery discharge
- Vaginal discharge tinged with blood
- Pelvic pain
- Loss of bladder control
- Weight loss
- Lack of energy
How do I decrease my risk of cervical cancer?
Prevention measures should be discussed with your doctor and include healthy sexual behavior, smoking cessation, HPV-vaccination and testing, as well as regular cervical cancer screening through the use of the Pap smear.
When should I get tested for cervical cancer?
The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old.
What should I expect during the test?
The cervical screening test, the Pap test, usually takes around five minutes to carry out and is a standard requirement for monitoring a women’s health. Some people may feel embarrassed, especially during initial visits to the doctor. However, it’s important to remember that clinicians conducting these procedures are highly trained and have performed hundreds or thousands of exams and see it as a normal part of their job.
During the appointment:
- For your own comfort, you may want to empty your bladder before the exam.
- It is okay to bring a female family member or friend if that helps create a calm and comfortable environment.
- The clinician will ask you to change into a paper or cloth gown and lay down on the examination table, placing your feet on foot rests.
- A plastic or metal instrument called the speculum will be used to allow for a clear view of the cervix.
- Once the speculum is in place, a spatula or soft brush will be inserted through it to take a swab from the cervix. This may feel slightly uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t be painful.
- The doctor may also perform a pelvic exam, checking the uterus, ovaries, and other organs, as well as a breast exam, to make sure there are no problems at the same time as the Pap test.
The sample of cervical cells is then sent to a laboratory and examined to see whether there are any abnormal cells.
If I’m already married, is it too late to get vaccinated?
No, it still may make sense. Only your health care professional can tell you if vaccination is right for you. But, if you are married, you may still benefit from vaccination.