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Cervical Cancer Prevention: The Best Tips Gathered by Flo

Cervical cancer affects hundreds of thousands of women globally each year. When detected early enough, it can be prevented and cured. Keep reading to learn all about this condition, including its causes, possible symptoms, types, and prevention at different stages of life.

Cervical cancer is a disease that occurs when cancerous cells grow in the cervix, which is the part of the body that connects the uterus and the vagina. It is a major public health issue and the fourth most common form of cancer in women.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2018, an estimated 570,000 women worldwide were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and about 311,000 women passed away from it. Women ages 35–44 are most often diagnosed with cervical cancer, and those under the age of 20 rarely develop this disease.

There are four stages of cervical cancer, which are diagnosed based on the size of the cancer and where it has spread throughout the body. And different types of cervical cancers and precancers are classified based on how they appear under a microscope.

Technical, medical, and policy tools and approaches to eliminate cervical cancer exist. The WHO states that a comprehensive global approach to prevent, screen, and treat cervical cancer could completely eradicate it as a public health issue within just one generation.

Ninety-nine percent of cervical cancer cases are connected to an infection with a high-risk strain of HPV, human papillomavirus. HPV is an extremely common sexually transmitted virus. The WHO says that most sexually active people will be infected at some point in their lives, and some may be infected repeatedly.

Pre-cancer usually does not have symptoms, and cervical cancer might not have symptoms in the early stages.

Any of the following could be signs of cervical cancer as it advances:

  • Pain during sex
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Increased vaginal discharge 
  • A longer and heavier menstrual period
  • Unexplained, persistent pain in the pelvis or back

If cancer reaches a more advanced stage and spreads to other parts of the body, symptoms could become more severe.

These signs can also be caused by something else, but it’s important to visit a health care provider if you notice any symptoms that don’t go away.

The risk of cervical cancer increases with age. Although cervical cancer is most often diagnosed in people who are 35–44, people 20 and older can also be affected. And it’s rarer for people younger than 20.

The HPV vaccine and regular screening tests help prevent cervical cancer.

Here’s a guide for keeping yourself safe from cervical cancer throughout life:

  • Ages 9–13: Get the HPV vaccine, which is administered in two shots. The vaccine works only before a person gets HPV. According to the WHO, girls are prioritized for HPV vaccination, because it’s the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer. The CDC recommends it for everyone.
  • Ages 21–30: Get a Pap smear every three years. If the Pap smear shows abnormal cells, your doctor may recommend more regular screenings or further testing. 
  • Ages 31–64: Get a Pap smear every three years or a combined Pap and HPV test every five years.

To help protect yourself from cervical cancer, practice safe sex by using a condom and dental dams.

Screening tests look for pre-cancer or early stage cervical cancer, which is more treatable and has the best chance of recovery. When cervical cancer is found early enough, it is associated with long survival and better quality of life.

In the U.S., cervical cancer was once the leading cause of cancer death among women, but cases and deaths have decreased significantly over the past few decades thanks to increased screening.

Cervical cancer is mostly caused by HPV. It develops in the cervix and can spread throughout the body. Early-stage cancer may not have symptoms, which is why it’s essential to get vaccinated against HPV and get regular gynecological screenings. If cervical cancer is found early, the chance of recovery is high.

"Cervical Cancer". World Health Organization, 2021, https://www.who.int/health-topics/cervical-cancer#tab=tab_1. Accessed 18 Mar 2021.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. “What is Cervical Cancer?”. American Cancer Society, 2020. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/about/what-is-cervical-cancer.html. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

“Cervical Cancer: Basic Information”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/index.htm#:~:text=All%20women%20are%20at%20risk,person%20to%20another%20during%20sex. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

“Cervical Cancer: What Are the Risk Factors?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/risk_factors.htm. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

“Cervical Cancer: What Are the Symptoms?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/symptoms.htm. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

“Cervical Cancer: Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/statistics/index.htm. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

Cancer.Net Editorial Board. “Cervical Cancer: Symptoms and Signs”. American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2020. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/symptoms-and-signs. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

Cancer.Net Editorial Board. “Cervical Cancer: Statistics”. American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2020. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/cervical-cancer/statistics. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

McCutchen, Kelly. “Cervical Health 101 for Cervical Health Awareness Month”. Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, 2018. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-st-louis-region-southwest-missouri/blog/cervical-health-101-for-cervical-health-awareness-month. Accessed 30 Mar 2021.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. “Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer”. American Cancer Society, 2020. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html#:~:text=Having%20multiple%20full%2Dterm%20pregnancies,HPV%20infection%20with%20sexual%20activity. Accessed 22 Mar 2021.

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