According to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, Andrews, 38, is one of the nearly 13,000 women in the United States that are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year — however, the cancer is usually preventable and treatable.
Dr. Lynda Roman, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Keck School of Medicine of USC, is sharing everything you need to know about cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer are abnormal vaginal bleeding — particularly bleeding after intercourse — and abnormal spotting or discharge, particularly if it’s bloody.
How is it diagnosed?
If someone comes in with these symptoms, and you look inside with a speculum, you usually see a lesion. The other common way is someone will have an abnormal pap smear.
How often should a woman get pap smears?
It depends on their age and history. Women who have never had a history of having a problem with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), who have never had an abnormal pap, starting at about age 30 or so they can be getting paps every five years. It varies tremendously if there’s ever been a positive test for the Human Papillomavirus — then it has to be done more frequently.
At what age should women start getting screened?
The American Society of Cervical Pathology guidelines state that for women under 21 screenings are not recommended. From 21 to 29, women should get pap smears alone every three years. Over the age of 30, that’s when the best way to screen is to combine a pap smear with an HPV test, and that’s done until at least age 65.
Are there ways to prevent cervical cancer?
1) Limit sexual partners.
The vast majority of cervical cancer is considered a sexually transmitted disease, so celibacy would prevent it. The more partners that one has the greater the risk because the more chance of exposure. The younger one is, the more fertile the ground is for the Human Papillomavirus, and as one ages it’s harder to get an established infection.
2) Make sure you follow screening guidelines.
Most cervical cancers are diagnosed in women who do not follow the screening guidelines — at least 70 percent of cervical cancer was found in women who did not get their scheduled pap or had an irregular pap and did not follow up.
3) Get the Human Papillomavirus vaccine.
The HPV vaccine is still [relatively new], so we need to wait longer to see the long-term outcome, but the preliminary point of view is that the vaccination drastically reduces any kind of pre-cancer from the viruses that the vaccine covers.
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What is the typical age of onset for cervical cancer?
You can see cervical cancer across the ages, but the incidence is higher in women under 50. It is not a disease of old women. As one ages, it’s less likely to happen.
How is cervical cancer treated?
It depends enormously on how advanced it is. Very early cases sometimes just require an excision of a portion of the cervix and that’s it. Once it’s no longer microscopic and it’s become more established, then the treatment will either be a radical hysterectomy or for women who want children, there are some options where most of the cervix is removed but the uterus can be left in place. As it gets larger, you lose the option for conservative treatment and you’re talking about a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.
How treatable is cervical cancer?
The earlier you find it, the more successful you are going to be with treating it. The very early cancer, what we call micro-invasive cancer, is 99 percent curable. As the cancer becomes more established but limited to the cervix, there’s a range, but generally 80 to 90 percent [is treatable]. Then as it becomes more advanced, even if it hasn’t metastasized, the cure rate begins to fall. But even then, if it hasn’t metastasized, more than half of cases are usually curable.