Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix, or the outer entrance to the uterus
(womb). It develops slowly, long after abnormal or "dysplastic" changes may
be detected in the cervical cells. Worldwide, cervical cancer affects 450,000
women per year and it is the third most common cancer to affect women in the
world (after skin cancer and breast cancer). It usually affects women between
the ages of 30 and 55.
Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed by routine Pap smears; a new test
called the "DNA with Pap" may now enhance that diagnostic ability. Although
cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women without symptoms-or unaware
of their symptoms-there are subtle symptoms. These include bleeding after intercourse
(sometimes just spotting); excessive vaginal discharge; or abnormal, irregular
bleeding between periods.
Fortunately, a probable cause has been identified. Recent medical studies have
confirmed that the human papilloma virus (HPV) is associated with most
cases of cervical cancer. In addition to having had an HPV infection, other
risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- history of genital warts, herpes simplex or any STD
- history of previous abnormal pap smears
- smoking, or abusing other substances, including alcohol
- having a mother who took the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy
to prevent miscarriage (1940-1970)
- having HIV/AIDS
- having impaired immune system function
- having a male sexual partner who has had a sexual partner with cervical
- having a family history of cervical cancer
- lower socioeconomic status
- having a personal or family history of lower genital tract dysplasia or
Over the past 50 years, the mortality from cervical cancer-once
one of the most common and lethal cancers in women in the United
States-has decreased by 74%, mostly due to the widespread use of the Pap smear.
When cervical cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate
is more than 90 percent Unfortunately, most women who die from
cervical cancer have not had a Pap smear in more than 5 years. In 2002, apr.
4,100 women died from cervical cancer in the United States. Estimates are that
more than 12,000 more women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2003.
The good news is that thanks to advances in cervical cancer prevention, screening
and treatment, their prognosis is likely to be good. The most exciting advance
on the horizon is the development of an HPV vaccine to prevent the most common
type of virus that causes cervical cancer.
Created: 11/6/2003  - Donnica Moore, M.D.