Understanding and Preventing Cervical Cancer
You’ve probably heard about the Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, but did you know that HPV is the main cause of all cervical cancers? Cervical cancer is cancer that starts with the growth of abnormal cells along the cervix. The cervix connects the vagina (birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus (womb). To better understand this type of cancer, it is essential to know what is typically the cause of it and the signs to look for. In this blog, we will share this information and how you can help prevent cervical cancer.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is typically caused by the sexually transmitted infection, human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus passed from one person to another during sex. This can be transmitted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with an individual who has the virus. Even if no signs or symptoms exist, HPV can still be transmitted.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point. That said, it is essential to note that HPV consists of more than 200 related viruses, and they fall into two groups, low-risk and high-risk. The high-risk types are the ones that can cause several types of cancer, and there are only two high-risk HPV types (HPV16 and HPV18) that are responsible for most HPV-related cancers.
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Knowing the symptoms to look for when it comes to cervical cancer is critical in early diagnosis or prevention. Generally, early-stage cervical cancer produces no signs or symptoms. However, more advanced cervical cancer can include the following symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
- Changes in bathroom habits (increased urination, constipation, diarrhea)
- Abdominal or back pain
How Can I Prevent it?
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent cervical cancer, certain efforts can decrease the risk. It is recommended that you:
- Have regular screenings (Pap smears or Pap tests). The National Foundation for Cancer Research states that all women aged 21-65 should get regular Pap smears. Often, the most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests. These screenings are your first line of defense against gynecological diseases and maintaining good reproductive health. At OnePeak Medical, we recommend getting a well-woman exam annually to catch anything in the earliest stages when treatment is most successful.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking doubles your risk of developing cervical cancer. Studies have found that tobacco by-products damage the DNA of the cervix and can contribute to the development of this type of cancer.
- Practice safe sex. Studies show that women who have multiple sexual partners in their lifetime increase their risk of developing HPV and cervical cancer. When having casual sex, be sure to use a condom as this can help to lower your risk of developing it.
We’re here to help
At OnePeak Medical, we offer patients a unique care model that integrates traditional care and functional medicine. At any OnePeak location, you can meet with one of our dedicated primary care providers that specializes in women’s health to begin adding regular screenings into your health regimen. Book online for your annual well-woman exam today.