Cervical cancer is preventable, with regular screenings

January 16, 2019
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  • To prevent cervical cancer, catch it earlier.
  • Your best preventive measure is to get regular screenings beginning at age 21.

Cancer of the cervix is relatively common and was once one of the deadlier cancers in women, but in developed countries like the United States, it is fairly easy to detect early, prevent or treat. It’s important to make cervical cancer screen a part of your medical care routine.

During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month — and throughout the year — bear in mind this guidance from the American Cancer Society:

  • Women should start having routine screens beginning at age 21. Until they are age 29, this means having a PAP test every three years. (Formerly, the medical community recommended annual tests, but concluded the benefits of annual testing were outweighed by the risks.)
  • At age 30 and up until age 65, you’re advised to have a PAP test and an HPV test every five years.

Both procedures collect samples of cells from the cervix for laboratory analysis. Both help health care providers detect cervical cancer risks early, before the disease develops.

Swedish suggests you can lower your risk by getting a vaccine for the HPV virus, which occurs in one in four women.

Risk factors, symptoms and treatments

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV virus, which can be passed from person during sex. The virus can be dormant for years and cause no symptoms, but it can develop into cervical cancer. Common risk factors for developing cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Having HIV, the virus that causes AIDS or other condition that weaken the body’s immune system
  • Using birth control pills for five or more years
  • Having given birth to three or more children
  • Having multiple sexual partners

The World Health Organization, which is the leading global organization advocating screening, notes that cervical cancer symptoms may include:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding between regular periods, or after intercourse
  • Pain in the back, legs or pelvis
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Vaginal discomfort and discharge

More advanced cases may produce additional symptoms.

If cervical cancer is found, treatment options may include: a removal of the tumor, but not the cervix; a hysterectomy; or some combination of chemotherapy and radiation. It depends on the stage of the stage of the cancer. For many people, a hysterectomy is the only procedure that is required.

Learn more

Read our fact sheet with information about cervical cancer screening, and learn more about the Swedish Cancer Institute. Find a Swedish physician near you in our provider directory, and book an appointment at Swedish Primary Care online

Swedish gynecologic oncologist Chirag Shah, MD, discusses cervical cancer with a video and diagrams.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

Topics: Cancer, Women