Female cervical cancer facts and awareness

January was designated Cervical Health Awareness Month by the U.S. Congress as a way to shed more light on the disease that affected an estimated 13,000 women in 2016. According to National Foundation for Cancer Research, more than 4,000 of those women affected will die from the disease.

Cervical cancer can affect women of all ages and is the second most common type of cancer found in women all over the world.

However, it also known as one of the most preventable types of cancer and the more women who know about it and its screening methods, the more who can protect themselves from the deadly illness.

cervical cancer

Screenings for cervical cancer are highly effective in preventing the disease.

HPV is a primary cause of cervical cancer

"The majority of women living with HPV do not develop cervical cancer. "

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted disease that is the cause behind around 99 percent of cases of cervical cancer.

Over 100 individual strains of the disease exist, the vast majority of which do not result in cancer. Two strains known as HPV-16 and HPV-18 are referred to as high-risk and precipitate 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. 

By age 50, approximately 80 percent of women in the U.S. will contract some type of HPV. The disease is estimated to be the most widely spread sexually transmitted infection throughout the country. Although these numbers may be alarming, the majority of women living with HPV do not develop cervical cancer.

If cervical cancer does present itself, it usually occurs during the middle of a woman's life, and 50 percent of all previous diagnoses were in women between 35 and 55 years old. The American Cancer Society stated 20 percent of cases were in women over 65 but the disease only rarely affects women under 20 years old.

Screenings

Cervical cancer is nicknamed the 'silent killer' because its symptoms do not appear until it reaches an advanced state. However, it develops slowly over time, which gives women ample opportunities to detect and stop the disease.

The NCCC stated that deaths from the disease in America decline by 2 percent annually because of pre-cancer screens. Abnormal changes to the cells in the cervix are known as pre-cancers which eventually lead to the deadly form of cancer; pre-cancers can be treated before this happens when they are detected in screens. The earlier in the disease's development cycle that it's recognized, the easier it is to stop.

The American Cancer Society offers a few guidelines on when women should undergo cervical cancer screenings via HPV and Pap tests.

  • All women over 21 should have a Pap test done every three years until they turn 29. Beginning at 30, women should get Pap tests combined with HPV tests in a process called co-testing. Tests should be run every 5 years until the age of 65.
  • Women over 65 who have had regular screening during the preceding 10 years should halt screens unless pre-cancers were discovered during the previous 20 years.
  • No women should be screened every year.
  • Women vaccinated against HPV should still follow the screening guidelines.