THE WARNING SIGNS OF CERVICAL CANCER
Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women today, but thanks to the Pap Smear and advanced screening and tests, medical professionals are able to detect changes in the cervix before cancer starts to progress. These developments can also find cervical cancer early at its most curable stage.
Hallelujah for innovation!
But what actually is cervical cancer?
As you would suspect, it starts in the lining the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, otherwise known as your womb. It is here in the body of the uterus where a fetus grows. The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). The part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called the endocervix. The part next to the vagina is the exocervix (or ectocervix). The two main types of cells covering the cervix are squamous cells (on the exocervix) and glandular cells (on the endocervix). The place these cell types meet is called the transformation zone. It is here where most cervical cancers start in the cells of the transformation zone.
The best way to detect any changes in your body (and therefore your cervix!), is to cultivate a strong body awareness. This means understanding when something doesn’t feel right, paying close attention and then consulting your doctor or medical professional.
Here are 9 warning signs you shouldn’t ignore:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Discomfort while urinating
- Pain during sex
- Heavier and longer menstrual periods
- Loss of bladder control
- Body pain
- Constant fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
There are also several risk factors that can increase your chance of cervical cancer.
According to the Cancer Council, almost all cases are caused by persistent infection with some high-risk types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, some of which cause a type of growth called papillomas, which are more commonly known as warts. HPV can infect cells on the surface of the skin, and those lining the genitals, anus, mouth and throat, but not the blood or internal organs such as the heart or lungs.
Around eight out of 10 women will become infected with genital HPV at some time in their lives. Most women who have the HPV infection never get cervical cancer; only a few types of the HPV result in cervical cancer.
Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. Research also suggests that the risk of cervical cancer increases the longer a woman takes birth control pills, but the risk goes back down again after the pill is stopped.
What can you do now to prevent cervical cancer?
- Avoid contact with HPV: This virus is passed from one person to another during skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body.
- Have regular pap smears: This is crucial. Every two years, make an appointment with your doctor and stay in the know.
- Use condoms: Condoms provide some protection against HPV but they don’t completely prevent infection. Men who use condoms are less likely to be infected with HPV and to pass it on to their female partners. It is also an alternative to using the contraceptive pill over a long period of time.
- Don’t smoke: Not smoking is another important way to reduce the risk of cervical pre-cancer and cancer.
- Get vaccinated: Vaccines are available that can protect against certain HPV infections. They only work to prevent HPV infection − they will not treat an infection that is already there. That is why, to be most effective, the HPV vaccines should be given before a person becomes exposed to HPV.
Stay in the know, listen to your body and take action if something isn’t right.