This is a cancer that can be prevented and one that can be successfully treated when found early.
The cervix is the narrow channel between the uterus (womb) and the vagina. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection, which is spread sexually and usually causes few or no symptoms at all. HPV takes many years and even decades to bring about cancerous changes. Cervical cancer or cancer of the cervix, is the fourth most common cancer in women.
Girls and young women (before onset of sexual activity) can be vaccinated against HPV infection. This is a very effective vaccine that will prevent 90% of cancer cases.
Avoiding sex altogether will prevent HPV and nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Having few sexual partners and practicing safer sex (use of condoms) will reduce the risk of HPV infection significantly.
HPV infection and the early stages of cervical cancer cause no symptoms in most cases and so regular screening checks are crucial (you will not know if you have HPV or pre-cancerous changes or even cancer, until is late in the course of the disease). PAP smears will detect HPV, pre-cancerous changes, and cancer. Women should start having PAP smears once they are sexually active, with the frequency of repeat testing best determined by individual risk profile (something to discuss with your doctor).
HPV cannot be treated. Pre-cancerous changes in the cervix can often be treated with simple methods like laser treatment or minor surgical options such as cone biopsy. More advanced cancer usually requires surgery (hysterectomy), often combined with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Survival rates vary dramatically depending on the stage and the degree of spread.
Cervical cancer can truly be beaten with modern preventive, early-detection, and treatment options.
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