Disclaimer: We are not medical professionals and this page is purely meant to inform you about cervical cancer and what you should be doing to detect it. See the resources for medical information and how to find a doctor.
what is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is a small opening that acts as a gateway between your uterus and your vagina.
Cervical cancer is a slow growing disease that can be stoped with simple intervention given early detection. There are several risk factors that contribute to the development of this cancer.
Risk reduction factors
There are some things you can do however to help prevent cervical cancer.
what is HPV?
HPV is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. Also know as human papillomavirus, HPV is a common group of viruses that is spread through intimate sexual contact in all areas of sexual activity, including oral and anal sex. This virus is so common that most adults contract and clear HPV during their life without ever knowing it. However there are some strains of HPV that are more likely to cause cancer.
Do I have it?
To find out if you have HPV women can receive an HPV test from their doctor. Once reaching the age of 30 you should get the HPV test along with your regular PAP test to watch for high risk strains of HPV developing into cancer.
If you do contract a high risk strain of HPV at a young age, get tested regularly for abnormal cell growth to catch cancer early.
there is an hpv vaccine
If you are under the age of 26 you should get the HPV vaccine. This vaccine helps prevent the contraction of high risk strains of HPV and can decrease your likelyhood of developing reproductive cancers later in life. Even if you are sexually active you should recieve the vaccine to decrease your chances of contraction.
getting tested regularly is very important
The pap smear is a way to identify abnormal cells in the cervix. Though many women feel nervous or uncomfortable when recieving a pap smear, it is a very important test to have done regularly to maintain cervical health.
What is actually happening
Samples are collected from the cervical region and analyzed under a microscope to look for abnormalities. To collect the samples a nurse or doctor will insert a speculum into the vagina and use it to open it so that they may get a better look and reach to the cervix. Once the speculum is inserted they will brush the cervical area with a swab.
well this is awkward
Most medical professionals will walk you through the process letting you know exactly what they are doing and when. Though the experience can be awkward, for many women the procedure feels like nothing more than a small cramp for a couple of seconds.
It is important to stay relaxed during the procedure so remember to breathe and relax your muscles while the doctor walks you through the process.
so when should i get this?
Starting at the age of 21 you should get a pap smear every three years. If you have multiple sexual partners you should talk to your doctor about getting tested more frequently
The HPV test is a way to identify high risk strains of HPV to know if women are at risk for cervical cancer. Much like the pap smear this is a important test to have done regularly but doesn’t need to be done until after the age of 30. It is at this age that high risk strains become concerning for cervical cancer and the body has a hard time clearing them on its own.
What is actually happening?
Much like the pap smear, cell samples are collected from the cervical area. This sample is then sent of for cell DNA testing to identify what strains of HPV might be present. The experience of the test for the woman is almost identical as that of a pap and is often done at the same time through a process called co-testing.
so when should i get this done?
Starting at the age of 30 you should begin co-testing, getting an HPV test along with your pap smear. This should be done every 3-5 years. If high risk HPV is discovered then testing should be done more regularly to monitor the area for cervical cancer.
If you want to have HPV testing done before you are 30, ask your doctor when you go in for your next annual.
what do these tests mean?
There are various ways to describe the results that you might receive after your testing. The descriptive system uses the terms mild, moderate, and severe dysplasia to describe the variety and severity of the results you may receive.
If you do receive abnormal pap results, you may be asked to come back for further testing. This testing can take on various forms depending on the information the doctors are trying to find.
additional testing you may need
This is an in depth look at the vagina and cervix using a lighted microscope. Sometimes vinegar is swabbed onto the cervix to highlight abnormal cells.
In this instance the medical prfessional will remove a small part of the cervix for additional observation under a microscope. For this process the doctor will insert a speculum to open the vagina and take a small sample from the cervix. For most, this procedure does not require anestheia but may result in some bleeding and discharge after the exam along with cramping.
In this procedure the mocous membrane of the cervical canal is scraped using a spoon-shaped instrument. This procedure can again be done without anestheia but may result in some bleeding and discharge after the exam along with cramping.
A cone shaped portion of the cervix is removed to see if any abnormal cells exist below the surface of the cervix. This can be done using a LEEP cone procedure (explained below) or a knife cone procedure. In either instance the patient will likely undergo either local or general anestheia. There may be vaginal bleeding for about a week following this and spotting may last up to three weeks.
LEEP (Loop Electro-Surgical Excision Procedure)
Using a small heated wire, the tissue and abnormal cells are removed. This can be done under local anesthia and may result in some cramping during and after the procedure. Following, you may have moderate to heavy vaginal discharge that lasts up to three weeks.