January is Cervical Health Awareness Month

By Al Saint Jacques, MDLinx
Published January 11, 2016

Key Takeaways

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month as designated by the United States Congress. According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 30 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50%. The main reason for this decrease was the increased use of screening tests. Screening can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early, in its most curable stage. Another way to prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes most cases of cervical cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, for all stages of cervical cancer, the 5-year survival rate is 68%. When detected at an early stage, the 5-year survival rate for women with invasive cervical cancer is 91%. If cervical cancer has spread to surrounding tissues or organs and/or the regional lymph nodes, the 5-year survival rate is 57%. If the cancer has spread to a distant part of the body, the 5-year survival rate is 16%.

Experts say that cancer survival statistics should be interpreted with caution. These estimates are based on data from thousands of people with this type of cancer in the United States each year, so the actual risk for a particular individual may be different. It is not possible to tell a woman how long she will live with cervical cancer. Because survival statistics are often measured in multi-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this cancer.

There are a few things you should know about the symptoms of cervical cancer. Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes invasive and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.
  • An unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
  • Pain during intercourse.

These signs and symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cervical cancer. For example, an infection can cause pain or bleeding. Still, if women have any of these signs or other suspicious symptoms, they should see their health care professional right away. Ignoring symptoms may allow the cancer to progress to a more advanced stage and lower the chances for effective treatment. Even better, don't wait for symptoms to appear. Women should have regular Pap tests and pelvic exams.

For more information about cervical cancer and related conditions, go to Cervical Health Awareness Month on the American Cancer Society website, the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.net, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Cervical Cancer Awareness website. Or better yet, speak with your healthcare professional.

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