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What Is Cervical Cancer?

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, more than 4,000 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States this year.  More than half of these women will not have had a Pap smear in at least five years.  All women should have a Pap smear every one to three years, regardless of their age; some may need Pap smears more often than once per year.  Ask your doctor about when you should have your next Pap smear.

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 discharge that is repeatedly unresponsive to treatment), and abnormal bleeding between periods.

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Created: 5/2/2001  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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