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DIRECTOR’S CORNER

From the Director's Desk: Take Steps to Prevent Cervical Cancer

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

Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide and occurs when cancer begins to grow in the cervix. The cervix is the part of a woman’s reproductive system that connects the birth canal to the upper part of the uterus, or womb, where babies grow during pregnancy.

Each year, more than 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer. The main cause is due to human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common virus passed from one person to another during sex. Other risk factors that can increase a woman’s chances of having cervical cancer include:

  • having HIV or another condition that makes it hard for the body to fight off health problems;
  • smoking;
  • using birth control pills for five or more years;
  • having given birth to three or more children and
  • having several sexual partners.

Cervical cancer most often occurs in women over age 30, but all women are at risk. To reduce your risk of cervical cancer, it’s important that you have regular Pap and HPV screening tests performed. Both can help prevent the disease from occurring or find it early.

The Pap test, or Pap smear, looks for precancers that could become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. Women who are aged 21 to 29 should have a Pap test performed every three years. For women aged 30 to 65, there are several recommended testing options. These include having either a Pap test performed every three years, a Pap and HPV test performed every five years or an HPV test alone performed every five years. HPV tests can find any of the high-risk types of HPV that are commonly found in cervical cancer.  

Beyond routine screening, additional ways to lower cervical cancer risk include using condoms during sex, limiting a person’s number of sexual partners and not smoking.  

In its early stages, cervical cancer my not show signs or cause symptoms, but when the disease advances, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge may occur. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately. Even if these happenings are caused by something other than cervical cancer, the only way to know is to see your doctor.

Click here to learn more about cervical cancer, low-cost screening and more. 

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