January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. In support of women everywhere, we want to make sure women understand cervical cancer and how it can affect them. Let’s start at the beginning.
What is a cervix?
The cervix, also known as the birth canal, looks like a squishy little pink donut at the top of the vaginal canal. It’s a sensitive and important part of the female anatomy. Gynecologists regularly test the cervix during a woman’s annual checkup with a pap-smear. If the little pink donut doesn’t look so good or the results of the pap-smear come back abnormal, the gynecologist will start looking for a number of possible inflictions, including cervical cancer.
What are the signs of cervical cancer?
Early-stage cervical cancer typically shows no symptoms. This is precisely why annual checkups are so vital. Cervical cancer that has reached more advanced stages can show one or more of the following signs:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and smell bad
- Pelvic pain during intercourse
What causes cervical cancer?
Like all cancers, the cause is complex and not fully understood. But one factor significantly increases the chances of developing cervical cancer.
- HPV (Human Papillomavirus)
Luckily, scientists have developed a vaccine against HPV. It’s recommended for females aged 11 through 26. Remember that HPV is not a guarantee of developing cervical cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control, “HPV is so common that almost every person who is sexually-active will get HPV at some time in their life if they don’t get the HPV vaccine.” Most people fight off the virus like any other, never noticing the infection. But not everyone is so lucky.
How is cervical cancer treated?
It’s been said that “If you’re going to get cancer, cervical cancer is the best because it can be eliminated easily and immediately in most cases.” In the early stages of cervical cancer, the cervix can develop cysts. These abnormal cell growths can be removed in three ways.
- Cryotherapy. A trained practitioner uses a “freeze gun” to kill the tissue in the cysts. This allows the cervix to stay intact and strong. It’s the preferred treatment for women who plan on having children in the future. The equipment also requires no electricity, so it’s ideal for clinics in remote locations.
- Thermal Ablation. In this procedure, a trained practitioner will use a “heat gun” to cauterize cancerous growths. This is a newer method of treatment compared to cryotherapy and electrosurgery that is simple and safe.
- Electrosurgery. A highly skilled practitioner will use an electrified loop of hot wire to cut out the irregular tissues. This method is the hardest on the cervix, as pieces of the birth canal are actually removed. However, it is the only procedure that simultaneously supplies tissue for further biopsy.
Every woman facing cervical cancer should discuss these options with their gynecologist and oncologist to determine which one will provide her with as secure and fulfilling a future as possible.
But before any of that happens, remember to get an HPV vaccine and see a gynecologist regularly for a checkup and pap-smear. They can literally save your life.