January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. No one wants to talk about cervical cancer; but we should. Because it is highly preventable and when found early, it is also one of the most treatable cancer types.
More than 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, and more than 4,000 of women die. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide. But because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix—the lower part of the uterus. These cells do not suddenly change into cancer. Instead, the normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer.
Although cervical cancers start from cells with pre-cancerous changes, only some will develop into cancer. It usually takes several years for cervical pre-cancer to change to cervical cancer, but it also can happen in less than a year. Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than invasive cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. But over the last 40 years, the cervical cancer death rate has gone down by more than 50 percent. The main reason for this change was the increased use of the Pap test. This screening procedure can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It can also find cervical cancer early—when it is in its most curable stage.
The American Cancer Society′s estimates for cervical cancer in the U.S. for 2017 are:
- About 12,820 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed.
- About 4,210 women will die from cervical cancer.
There are many risk factors which may increase the odds of developing cervical cancer. Some of these include:
The American Cancer Society recommends that women follow these guidelines to help find cervical cancer early. Following these guidelines can also find pre-cancers, which can be treated to keep cervical cancer from forming.
- Women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every 3 years. HPV testing should not be used for screening in this age group (it may be used as a part of follow-up for an abnormal Pap test).
- Beginning at age 30, the preferred way to screen is with a Pap test combined with an HPV test every 5 years. This should continue until age 65.
- Another reasonable option for women 30 to 65 is to get tested every 3 years with just the Pap test.
Sources: NCCC, American Cancer Society