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Cervical Cancer

Q: What is cervical cancer?

Dr. Donnica:
Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal cellular changes in the cervix (the "mouth" of the womb).  It is the only gynecologic cancer that can be prevented by regular screening with Pap smears.  Despite this fact, nearly 4,400 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States during 2001.  Of these, more than half will not have had a Pap smear in at least 5 years.

Few cancers have a known cause, but cervical cancer is an exception.  Most cervical cancers are now believed to be caused by one of 13 different strains of human papilloma virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that also causes cervical or anal warts. 

The biggest risk factor for cervical cancer is failure to receive regular Pap smears.  Other risk factors include having multiple sexual partners, HIV or HPV infections, smoking, and early age of first intercourse.

Symptoms include bleeding after intercourse, excessive vaginal discharge (or one that is repeatedly unresponsive to treatment), and abnormal bleeding between periods.

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Created: 3/9/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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