If you are over 30 years old and have been exposed to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), you are at greater risk for developing cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer start as a HPV infection. However, it’s important to note that not all cases of HPV will turn into cervical cancer.
A bad result from a Pap test will often indicate the need for a cervical cancer examination. This can be scary, but if found early, abnormal (precancerous) calls usually can be treated, avoiding the possibility of them turning into cancer later on.
Symptoms often don’t appear early in cases of cervical cancer, whereas precancerous cells will appear with a pap smear. There now also is the HPV vaccination that can guard against the strains of HPV found to be most likely to develop into cervical cancer. If symptoms are present, they may include bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, a watery bloody vaginal discharge that may be foul smelling, and pelvic pain or pain with intercourse.
If you are having pain with intercourse or bleeding between periods and suspect you may have cervical cancer, it is important to discuss it with your doctor to assure the best possible prognosis. Some questions you may want to ask are:
- What is cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is a cancer that forms in the tissue of the cervix. The cervix is the organ that connects the vagina and the uterus. Cervical cancer is usually a slow growing form of cancer. Last year there were more than 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported and more than 4,000 deaths from cervical cancer.
- What kind of tests do I need? Following abnormal results found in a Pap test, the doctor will perform a pelvic exam. During the pelvic examination, the doctor may take a small portion of the cervix to have tested at a laboratory. The doctor may take other types of biopsies such as a cone (conization) to view deeper layers of cervical cells, or punch biopsy using a circular knife to remove a circular section of cells from the cervix. Another tool that could be used is an electrified wire loop to remove tissues. The type of biopsy and type of tool used depends on the area and location of abnormal cells.
- What type of cervical cancer do I have? If cancerous cells are found in the biopsy phase, then the doctor will use imaging tests and scopes to determine the proper staging for your cancer. Staging ranges from 0 to IV. At the 0 stage, cancer is isolated to the cervix (in situ) , and non-invasive. At stage IV, cancer has spread to nearby organs such as the bladder or rectum, or it has spread to other parts of the body like the liver, lungs or bones.
- What types of treatments are available? Options for treatment your doctor may consider depending on your particular case could include, for non-invasive cases, outpatient surgery (conization, LEEP, laser surgery, cryosurgery), or hysterectomy (if past childbearing years). In more invasive cases, the doctor may recommend hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
- Will I have to stop working? Some treatment may require you to take time off work. For instance, expect a six-week recovery period following a hysterectomy. You may need to discuss this with your employer when the whole picture of your condition and treatment is determined.
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together? If you have other health conditions, you will need to discuss with your doctor options particular to your case.
- Is there anything I can do to prevent cervical cancer? The most important thing you can do is get a Pap test every one to three years. Other things include delaying the first sexual intercourse in adolescents, and having fewer sex partners. Avoid smoking to help prevent various types of cancer. There also is the HPV vaccination for adolescents aged 10 to 25.
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover seeing a specialist? Should I get a second opinion? Be your own best advocate! If you want a second opinion, ask for one. Many doctors welcome a second opinion contrary to what you might think. Many insurance companies may cover additional testing performed by a different doctor if your doctor requests it. Some insurance companies even require a second opinion. The short delay taken in getting all the information to allow you to feel more confident and in control of your health in most cases will not be detrimental to your treatment.
- Is there any research I can do on my own and what sources would you recommend? A cancer diagnosis can be scary, frustrating, and depressing. Your doctors can suggest their favorite reputable web sites and support groups for obtaining more information and helping you cope with cervical cancer.
This information is not meant to be a replacement for talking with your doctor. Talk with your team of doctors to get the full picture for your particular case.
www.mayoclinic.com Cervical Cancer
www.cancer.gov Cervical Cancer
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Christine Jeffries is a writer/editor for work and at heart, and lives in a home of testosterone with her husband and two sons. Christine is interested in women’s health and promoting strong women.