While the idea of Cervical Cancer is usually met with fear and concern, a good part of the reason we immediately become scared is due to a lack of knowledge! Gynecological cancers are rarely talked about; our society still avoid the discussion of women’s health below the belt.
The number of patients being diagnosed with Gynecological factors is on the rise, and the lack of information being shared is preventing women from catching it early!
Gynecological cancers have a good prognosis when caught in the early stages. Even Ovarian cancer, one of the deadliest cancers for women, can often be cured when caught early. The lack of discussion about the signs and symptoms, however, has resulted in an increase in the number of late stage diagnoses, resulting in a rise in mortality rates. It is important that we know what to watch for!
Caused by an abnormal growth of cells in the cervix, the primary accepted cause of cervical cancer is the human papilloma virus (HPV). A 2007 survey of women in the United States found that only 40% had heard of HPV, and of those, less than half knew it causes cervical cancer! An increased push in routine Pap screenings has resulted in a decrease in cases diagnosed over the last decade, as the tests are able to local abnormal cells in the cervix, catching a potential risk early, and allowing more advanced monitoring of those at risk.
What Increase Your Risk of Cervical Cancer?
While it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a disease, it is also important to understand what may be putting you at a higher risk. This will allow you to explore potential changes to your lifestyle to minimize your risk, as well as to be aware if you are high risk.
You are at a higher risk for the disease if you identify with any of these factors:
- Having many sexual partners
- Having sex for the first time at a young age
- Having sex with a man whose partner had cervical cancer
- A compromised immune system
- Mother’s use of diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy
What Should I Watch For?
There are three early warning signs that every woman should be familiar with! Know your body, trust your gut, and if you are showing any evidence of these signs, speak with a medical professional immediately!
- Unusual Vaginal Discharge
There are many different types of vaginal discharge, and familiarizing yourself with what is normal, and what is not, is an important part of understanding your body. You should pay attention if you notice any of the following characteristics: pale, watery or brown colored discharge, discharge that is tinged with blood or a foul-smell.
- Pelvic Pain
Cervical cancer can cause abnormal changes to the cervix. In these cases, you may experience pain during intercourse, or at other times. The disease can also spread within the pelvis. Listen to your body, and pay attention to anything that is outside of your normal menstruation cramps.
- Irregular Bleeding
Irregular vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of the early stages of cervical cancer. This can occur during or between your menstrual periods, or may increase after sex. During your periods bleeding may be heavier, or last longer. Between periods, watch for a slight blood-streaked discharge. If you are post-menopausal and see any vaginal bleeding, contact your doctor!
Additional Warning Signs Include:
If the above signs are missed, these warning signs are associated with more advanced cases of cervical cancer. Please note that the American Cancer Society cautions that these symptoms may be caused by several other conditions, not just cervical cancer, such as an infection in the pelvic area. If you are experiencing any of these signs, contact a medical professional to ensure that the proper testing is completed. This will allow you to know the definitive cause of your symptoms, and address them accordingly.
- Back or pelvic pain
- Difficulty going to the bathroom due to obstruction
- Swelling in one or both legs
- Weight loss