Cervical cancer is one of the most commons forms of cancer that affect a woman's reproductive organs and health. Strains of HPV which stands for Human Papillomavirus, is a sexually transmitted virus and is the leading cause of cervical cancer diagnosis'. 7 out of 10 women carry HPV but do not experience symptoms. They can carry the virus for years without symptoms or a negative impact to their immune system. However, if a woman carrying the virus undergoes changes or weaknesses to their immune system, the virus may then become active, creating new cancer cell growth on the surface of the cervix. Women over the age of 30 are often the most common age group to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. However, any woman who becomes sexually active is at risk.
Several cervical cancer risk factors are listed below.
A woman who has many sexual partners leaves herself vulnerable to the exposure of HPV
Young women under the age of 18 are especially at risk due to the continuing development of their immune system. Immature cells seem to be most susceptible to precancerous cells developing.
A history of other STD's such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis or HIV/AIDS creates a great risk of also having HPV
An already weakened immune system is also a risk. Most women who do become infected with HPV don't develop cervical cancer however, if another underlying health condition that weakens the immune system can provoke cancer cells to develop.
Smoking is also an activity that links women to cervical cancer. The exact link is still unknown but many women who develop cervical cancer are also known smokers. Tobacco use increases the risk of precancerous cell growth and changes to the cells of the cervix.
Common symptoms of cervical cancer can mask other underlying reproductive issues that are unrelated such as hormonal changes, side effects of birth control, heavy menstrual cycles and premenopause or perimenopause. Knowing your body and pursuing a pelvic exam if you feel something is wrong is best. Routine screenings can also help to prevent a progression of cancer growth if cervical cancer cells develop.
Common symptoms are listed below.
Vaginal bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause
Watery or bloody discharge that is foul in odor or unusually heavy
Pain during sexual intercourse or pelvic pain
An appointment with a doctor or OBGYN is important to follow up with if any of these symptoms occur. Women as young as 13 to 15 years of age are suggested to begin pap smear screenings to monitor or prevent the progression of cervical cancer, especially if she is sexually active. Starting prevention at a young age is very important and can create a healthy sexual activity level as she matures. It is also important to receive immediate medical attention and routine exams when a woman becomes pregnant. Pregnancy can weaken and alter the immune system where many women discover during the beginning and intermediate stages of their pregnancy to be infected with HPV. Being closely monitored is essential to overall health and wellbeing to prevent the spread and acceleration of precancerous cells.
As important as it is to receive routine pap smear screenings to scan for precancerous cells and dysplasia, it is also equally important for women to take protective measures during sexual intercourse by using condoms that aid in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.