Talk to your physician to learn more ways to reduce your personal risk factors and to determine a screening schedule that's right for you. To find a doctor, visit our online physician directory.
We've come a long way in the fight against cervical cancer. Early detection through Pap smears has drastically reduced the number of cervical cancer deaths—down 74 percent since their implementation in 1941. But we haven't come far enough. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 12,000 American women were diagnosed with the disease in 2011 alone—and more than 4,000 died from it.
With few symptoms or warning signs, cervical cancer often develops undetected. A tragedy considering that, when found in the early stages, the disease is more than 90 percent curable. Here, Kristen Stone-Mulhern, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwest Community Hospital, gives you the information you need to protect yourself.
It is most commonly caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is transmitted during sexual contact. HPV causes abnormal cell growth on the cervix, and in some cases these cells develop into cancer, says Dr. Stone-Mulhern.
Using barrier methods of protection (such as condoms) may reduce but not eliminate the risk of contracting HPV, she says.
There are also vaccines that can help protect women from acquiring common types of HPV. The vaccines are recommended for women and girls ages 9 through 26, preferably who have not begun sexual activity.
Cervical cancer can be difficult to detect. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, when it's most treatable, Dr. Stone-Mulhern notes. Later symptoms, which include abnormal discharge or bleeding after intercourse, are easily overlooked. Undergoing a Pap smear—a test that detects abnormal cervical cells—is the best way to catch cervical cancer. Your physician will administer a Pap test every one to three years depending on your age and risk factors.
Treatment options for cervical cancer range from surgery for non-invasive cancers to a combination of radiation, chemotherapy and/or surgery for invasive cancers. NCH offers a state-of-the-art cervical cancer treatment program that includes minimally invasive robotic surgery (da Vinci®), as well as the latest chemo and radiation therapies, says Dr. Stone-Mulhern.