Medical Monday: Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is cancer that starts at the cervix, the lower portion of the uterus that enters the top of the vagina.  The disease can be localized, or may spread to the lungs, liver, uterus, and rectum; making it life threatening. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), and is transmitted through sexual intercourse.  There are many strains of HPV. Some strains lead to cervical cancer; others cause genital warts, while the remaining causes no symptoms at all.

Risk Factors include:

  • Sexually active at an early age
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Being of low socio-economic status (likely interfering with regular screening)
  • Daughters of mothers exposed to DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy in the 1960s
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Having a sex partner who engages in high risk sexually activity with multiple partners


Preventing Cervical Cancer

Gardasil © vaccine is available for females and males age 9-26.  In women, it protects against 2 types of HPV responsible for 75% of cervical cancer cases, and the 2 types of HPV responsible for 90% of genital wart cases. The most ideal candidate is a female who receives vaccination prior to onset of sexual activity.


Cervical cancer can also be prevented by addressing the modifiable risk factors: limited number of sexual partners, using condoms, getting pap smears.


Cervical cancer is slow to develop.  Fortunately, the slow progression from normal to precancerous (dysplasia) to cancerous cells, gives doctors the opportunity to prevent, detect or treat the disease.  When detected early, the disease is curable.


The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends cervical cancer screening (pap smear) begin  in women within 3 years of onset of sexual activity or age 21 (which ever comes first). Screening should then be ever 1-3 years.  Women who’ve had a hysterectomy due to benign reasons such as fibroid tumors, no longer need pap smears. Women aged 65 or above, who have had at least 3 normal pap smears in a row, no longer need cervical cancer screening.


Take home point is that Cervical Cancer is PREVENTABLE.




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