Cervical cancer is a very serious health condition that’s more common than most women realize. It’s also difficult to diagnose unless you get regular checkups, and women don’t always meet that criteria. For that reason, it’s important to know a little more about this disease.
Here are 10 quick facts every women should know about cervical cancer.
1. One woman dies of cervical cancer every two minutes.
It’s also the second most common (and deadly) kind of cancer for women worldwide, ranking just behind breast cancer. Certain ethnicities are more likely to develop cervical cancer than others. Hispanics have the highest risks, followed by African-Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and whites – in that order. Native Americans and Alaskan natives are the least likely to develop this cancer.
2. About 31 percent of women fail to get a Pap test regularly.
According to CDC numbers, 69 percent of women over the age of 18 have had a Pap test within the last three years. That leaves nearly a third of women vulnerable to this deadly cancer.
It’s recommended to get a Pap smear at least once every three years, although those between the ages of 30 and 65 who have both a Pap smear and an HPV test can wait five years between screenings. If they have a Pap test alone, it should be once every three years. After the age of 65, ask your doctor if you can stop having the test.
3. Cervical cancer is often discovered late, which makes it difficult to treat.
Cervical cancer is typically slow to develop, but women often miss their regular testing, resulting in late cancer discovery. The longer it takes to diagnose the cancer, the less effective the treatments are. Typical cancer treatments are applied including surgery and radiation, but the survival rate is low with late discovery.
Along with the medical difficulties of treating cervical cancer, you might run into financial difficulties. Some insurance providers may consider cervical cancer a pre-existing condition since it was caught late, and they’ll refuse to cover it. It’s important for women to get insurance that will cover pre-existing conditions. If you get insurance through your work, you might consider supplemental plans that will help with the costs.
4. Cervical cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted disease called human papillomavirus (HPV).
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, nearly all sexually active people will get HPV at some point, even if they’ve only have one sexual partner in life. The CDC reports more than 20 million HPV infections worldwide and 6.2 million new cases each year.
Men are often carriers of the virus, and they’ll pass it to women during intercourse. It’s often a silent virus that shows no symptoms, and rarely affects men. A person might carry the virus and never show a negative symptom. But in other cases, it can develop into cancer.
5. Most cases of cervical cancer are preventable.
Since 2006, doctors have been using a highly effective vaccine that will protect a person from developing HPV. It creates antibodies in the immune system to generate an effective response against the disease when it enters the body.
The vaccination is typically given in two or three doses over a period of six months to both males and females between the ages of nine and twenty-six. It’s important for women to get this vaccine, if possible.
Additionally, routine Pap testing can detect abnormalities in the cervix, such as polyps. These can be treated or removed before they develop into cancer if they’re caught in the early stages.
6. More than 12,000 cases of cervical cancer will be discovered this year.
Worldwide, more than 1.68 million cases of cancer will be discovered each year. That means cervical cancer makes up nearly 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses in the world.
7. Some risk factors increase your risk of developing cervical cancer.
If you’re living a relatively unhealthy lifestyle, you’re more likely to develop this cancer. The biggest risk factors include:
• Multiple sexual partners
• Practicing unsafe sex
• Eating an unhealthy diet
• Lack of regular physical activity
8. Cervical cancer is more common for the middle-aged.
Most cases of cervical cancer are found in women younger than 50. It’s extremely rare for women under 20, even if they’re sexually active. It’s more common to find it in those between the ages of 30 and 50.
Additionally, if you have a family history of cervical cancer, it’s important to get a screening more frequently than the recommended three years.
9. By the time physical manifestations of the cancer show up, it’s usually too late.
Getting a Pap smear is vital to preventing cervical cancer because there are no warning signs in the early stages. It’s often considered a “silent killer” because you won’t notice anything until the disease has progressed too far for effective treatment.
In its late stages, you might experience:
• pelvic pain
• painful urination
• abnormal bleeding
• pain or bleeding after sex
• unusual discharge
• urinary incontinence
• abnormal menstrual cycles
• back pain
Contact a doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they’re in combination with each other.
10 Survival rates are low for those with cervical cancer.
In America, cervical cancer was once considered the most common cause of female cancer deaths because it was discovered so late. More than two-thirds of those diagnosed with cervical cancer died as a result.
Thankfully, the death rate has decreased over the last 40 years, thanks to an increased awareness of screenings and prevention measures. Now, about 4,210, or one third, of those diagnosed with cervical cancer will die as a result.
Cervical cancer is very treatable in its earliest stages, underscoring the importance of getting screened early and treating the cancer before it fully develops.