Welcome to 2021! It was certainly a journey to get here, but a new year means new beginnings, and with that comes the potential for your best year yet! Having a great year begins with making a commitment to taking care of your overall health. While purchasing that gym membership and starting that new diet your best friend has lost 10 pounds on are great ideas, your best year of health yet doesn’t stop there. In fact, the best thing you can do for your health this year and for your future is to commit to your regular screenings and checkups at The Women’s Clinic. January is National Cervical Health Awareness Month for a reason, and while you should always be thinking of your reproductive health, the reality is that some women don’t (thus, we have a month committed to awareness!). Regular visits and screening will help you keep tabs on your health and aid you in potentially avoiding any complications or diseases that could impact your short and long term health, like cervical cancer.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
The cervix, or lower uterus, is the area that connects the upper uterus, where the fetus grows, to the vagina. When cells in the lining of the uterus develop abnormalities and grow out of control, cervical cancer is formed. Cervical cancer is most often formed in what is called the transformation zone, where two different types of cells (glandular and squamous) in the uterus meet. Cervical cancer was once one of the most deadly cancers found in women, but screening has significantly reduced the amount of deaths associated with this disease. This year, almost 14,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with this disease, with Hispanic women and African-American women being more likely to get the disease. In addition, most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in women in their 30’s and 40’s.
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is like many cancers in that the early stages often don’t cause much pain nor do the symptoms present as noticable. Regular screenings are extremely valuable in this sense, as they can detect abnormalities and pre-cancerous spots before they become cancerous. As the cancer begins to grow, however, the symptoms begin to become more noticable and worrisome. These symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during intercourse, a smelly vaginal discharge, and even pelvic pain. When the cancer reaches advanced stages, more serious symptoms will occur, which may include:
- Difficulty urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Bloody, painful bowel movements
- Loss of weight or appetite
- A swollen abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or are worried you may have cervical cancer, please contact us and schedule an appointment as soon as you can.
Is Cervical Cancer Preventable?
While all cancers have a number of risk factors that make developing them more likely, cervical cancer is different in the sense that there are certain things you can do to lower your risk outside of changing lifestyle and dieting habits.
Having routine pap smears is an effective way to help prevent cervical cancer. Cervical cancer, unlike some other forms, can actually be detected in many patients before it even mutates into cancer. Pre-cancerous cells can be detected through regular pap smears, then monitored and treated if needed. The American Cancer Society recommends a Pap test every three years, beginning at age 21. While there are circumstances where that recommendation shifts to yearly for some women, it is important to discuss your personal screening schedule with your TWC physician. If you do have an irregular pap, you should have a follow up test done within the next 6 to 12 months to determine if anything has changed.
For some, an HPV vaccine is an effective way to prevent cervical cancer. The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a cause of many diagnosed cases. HPV is a group of viruses that is spread by skin to skin contact, including sexual contact. In some cases, HPV comes and goes without treatment or health issues, but in other cases it can cause various forms of cancer, including cervical cancer. Having HPV doesn’t automatically mean you’ll develop cancer. However, it can increase your odds. The HPV vaccine can be given to both boys and girls as young as 11 or 12 years old. In addition, the HPV Test can help detect cervical cancer. This test looks for high-risk types of HPV that are more likely to develop into pre-cancers and cancers.
Practicing safe sex and using protection is another way to help prevent cervical cancer. Limiting sexual partners and using condoms during intercourse also minimizes the likelihood of you contracting HPV. Lastly, smokers are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers.
2021 can potentially be a great year for you when it comes to your health! However, this won’t happen unless you make the commitment to doing the things that set the table for this, like keeping your regularly scheduled appointments and scheduling the appropriate screenings that give you the best opportunity to prevent major diseases like cervical cancer. Again, there’s a Cervical Health Awareness Month only because there are still so many who are neglecting or putting off the things that can keep their cervix healthy and identify issues before they are too far advanced. Schedule a visit with your TWC physician and let us help you start the year running towards great health!