All women at risk: Clinic raising awareness of cervical cancer

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and Baumholder’s Health Clinic wants to instill awareness of the symptoms, how it is spread, and what can be done to prevent and cure it.

Cancer is a disease in which body cells grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where this starts, even if it later spreads to other parts of the body.

When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower end of the uterus that connects the vagina (birth canal) to the uterus. The uterus is where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant. Cervical cancer is highly curable when found and treated early.

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Each year approximately 12,000 women in the U.S. get cervical cancer.

The human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. At least half of all sexually active people will be infected with HPV, but few women will develop cervical cancer.

Early on, cervical cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for women, such as bleeding after sex. Women who have any of these symptoms should see a doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.

There is a test that can either help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. The Pap test, or Pap smear, looks for cell changes on the cervix that can be treated, so that cervical cancer is prevented.

The Pap test also can find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. Women should begin getting regular Pap tests at age 21, or within three years of the first time you have sex, whichever happens first. The Pap test is recommended for all women.

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. Women are more likely to get HPV if they started having sex at an early age, or if they or their partner have had sex with several others. However, any woman who has ever had sex is at risk for HPV.

Cervical cancer may be prevented in numerous ways.

Get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It is given in a series of three shots. The vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women aged 13 through 26 who did not receive the vaccine when they were younger. The vaccine can be given as early as age 9.

See your doctor regularly for a Pap test.

Follow up with your doctor if your Pap test results are not normal.

Don’t smoke.

Use condoms during sex.

Limit your number of sexual partners.

Women who develop cervical cancer should ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist — a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers like this. This doctor will create a personally tailored treatment plan.

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