Nearly 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in the United States. But cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer – with appropriate screening and, depending on your age and health, vaccination for HPV.
How Do You Get Cervical Cancer?
Like all cancers, cervical cancer occurs when cells begin to grow out of control. It’s normal for cells to divide on their own – cell division is how we grow, heal, and develop. But when cells begin to grow out of control, they crowd out the normal cells and start destroying them. That’s when they start causing problems.
Cervical cancer begins – you guessed it – in the cervix. This is the part of the female reproductive system that connects the uterus to the vagina. If you’ve had a baby, you know all about the cervix.
The cervix includes two parts, with each covered in different types of cells. The part closest to the uterus is called the endocervix. It’s covered in glandular cells. The section closest to the vagina is covered in squamous cells and is called the exocervix, or ectocervix. Where the two cell types meet is known as the transformation zone. This is where most cervical cancers begin. You can read more about how cancer develops here from the American Cancer Society.
What Does HPV Have To Do With Cervical Cancer?
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “almost all cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV).” HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that’s so common the CDC notes that most people get it at some point in their lives. Unlike other infections – like a yeast infection (cringe!) – there usually aren’t any symptoms. It often goes away on its own, but if it doesn’t “there is a chance that over time it may cause cervical cancer,” says the CDC.
Are There Other Risk Factors Involved In Cervical Cancer?
Like other cancers, cervical cancer may be caused, or exacerbated, by other risk factors including:
- Having HIV or a weakened immune system
- Poor diet
- Certain birth control use (talk to us if you have questions)
And one of the biggest red flags: a family history of cervical cancer.
How To Prevent Cervical Cancer?
If you’re a regular patient, receiving Well Woman exams as recommended by Dr. Bartos and our staff, then you’re in good shape. Be sure to bring up any questions you have about cervical cancer at your next appointment – we can answer any questions you may have.
Please remember that if you’re experiencing a problem – vaginal discharge, itching, or you suspect you may have a sexually transmitted infection – you need to schedule a visit separate from your Well Woman visit to ensure insurance pays for your appointment.
Consider the HPV vaccine for your children. The CDC notes that nearly 14 million people, including teenagers, become infected each year. Recommendations on when to receive the vaccine vary depending on your child’s age and health, so be sure to talk to their physician about the right time for the vaccine. Read more about the vaccine from the CDC here: HPV Vaccines: Vaccinating Your Preteen or Teen.
If it’s been more than a year since you’ve had a Well Woman exam, call us today to get scheduled.