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5 Things You Might Not Know About Cervical Cancer

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Regular pap smears can help prevent or detect it early.

The cervix, located at the lower part of the uterus, may not cross our minds very often, but it’s an important part of our reproductive health. Cervical cancer develops when healthy cells in the cervix mutate and cause abnormal growth. Here’s what else you should know about cervical cancer. For answers to your specific questions, make an appointment to talk to a provider at your nearest The Right Time health center.

  1. HPV is responsible for almost all cervical cancers

Nearly all cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Because of the strong link between HPV and cervical cancer, physicians may use an HPV test to determine if you have a high-risk type of HPV. Providers may also recommend that you take the HPV vaccine. While the HPV is recommended for all sexually active people up to age 45, even people who have been diagnosed or exposed to HPV should still get the vaccine, as it can protect them from the other strains they may not have been exposed to.

  1. Early cervical cancer may have no symptoms

The early stages of cervical cancer are often symptomless. However, more advanced cervical cancer has symptoms of bleeding between menstrual cycles, a heavy, bloody discharge with a bad odor, and pelvic pain (including painful intercourse).

  1. There are two common types of cancers of the cervix

The two most common cervical cancers are named for the types of cells they affect: squamous cell carcinoma (cancer found in the flat, squamous cells that line the outer tissue of the cervix) and adenocarcinoma (cancer found in the glandular cells on the inside of the cervix).

But here’s some good news:

  1. Cervical cancer grows slowly

Cervical cancer is considered a slow-growing cancer, often taking decades to develop. On average, cervical cancer patients are 50 years old when they receive their diagnosis. The cancer’s slow growth gives providers a lot of time to catch the disease in its early stages.

  1. Regular pap smears can help prevent or detect cervical cancer early

It’s hard to say “good news” in a sentence about cancer, but the possibilities for early detection of cervical cancer are encouraging. Providers perform a “Pap smear” or Pap test about every three to five years during your regular visit to the gynecologist. Sometimes they may recommend “co-testing,” or taking both an HPV test and a Pap test for a better assessment. Either way, your provider should alert you to any pre-cancer changes in your cervix (abnormally growing cells that aren’t cancerous) detected from an exam.

Given the tendency for cervical cancer to develop slowly, as well as the excellent methods of prevention and detection, it’s important to see your gynecologist regularly for your Pap test. The providers at your nearest The Right Time health center can also help you by answering questions about cervical cancer that take your medical history into account.

Updated December 2021

Dara Mathis is a freelance writer whose work focuses on pop culture, feminism, and motherhood. A Florida girl at heart, she lives in Maryland with her family, which includes a yappy mini-Schnauzer.

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