January is Cervical Health Awareness Month. Cervical health is one of the most sought-after health topics today, and as a woman, it's in your best interest to stay aware about cervical cancer and its potential threats. Fortunately, cervical cancer is preventable when you get the necessary screenings and follow your doctor's care recommendations. When doctors find cervical cancer early, there is hope for a cure, but it can still be life-threatening. Due to this risk, you should take the first step to ensure that you know the status of your cervix so that you can stay healthy.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is an uncontrollable growth or mass of cells on the cervical wall. Doctors look for abnormal cells and determine if they are pre-cancerous. If they are, they can start treatment early to potentially prevent cancer from forming. This is why early detection is so important. The more precancerous cells grow, the more dangerous the risk of cancer becomes to your overall health.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
The largest cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus, or the HPV virus. Most adults contract the HPV virus at some point in their lives, mainly because it spreads easily from one person to another through sex. That's why, especially if you are a sexually active woman, you should make a point to get screened or tested regularly.
The HPV virus exists in many forms and can remain on the cervix for a long time without causing cancer. It's important to note that not all strains of the HPV virus lead to cervical cancer. Some of the HPV viruses manifest in the form of other diseases such as genital warts, while other forms of the virus do not manifest into any disease at all and normally vanish with time on their own.
What is the Screening for Cervical Cancer?
Testing, or screening, consists of two separate tests. A Pap test (Papanicolaou test) detects whether abnormal or pre-cancerous cells exist on the cervix. An HPV test determines whether you have the virus that is responsible for cancer-forming cells. Both the tests can be safely done in a clinic through your primary care doctor or your OB/GYN.
The Pap test recommendations are for women who are 21 through 65 years old, and should be done every 3 years if the first test results are normal. If you are 30 years old or older, you can take an HPV test, or both the Pap and HPV tests at the same time. Negative test results from both tests mean that your chances of contracting cervical cancer are slim.
If you haven't already, it is critical that you start these tests according to your age group classification. If your test results are positive, your doctor may order treatment in the form of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or hysterectomy to remove the cancerous cells. The success rates for these treatments are promising, especially if you find the cancer in its earlier stages.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
Prevention is possible by practicing safe sex to avoid contracting HPV. There is also an HPV vaccine available. The current recommendation for the vaccine is for girls 11 to 12 years old, but it can be administered between the ages of 9 and 26.
Since cervical cancer can have other causes, you should take the same steps for healthy living recommended to avoid other cancers. Eat a healthy diet, follow an exercise program, don't smoke (or quit now if you do), and practice stress reduction and management techniques such as yoga or meditation.
This month and every month, make sure you’re responsible with your cervical health. Take the necessary steps to be informed and act.