Dr. John Adams OB-GYN, women’s health services
Inconsistent periods might signal a problem..
“Unfortunately, symptoms of cervical cancer typically don’t appear until the late stages,” says Dr. DePasquale. “Early stage cervical cancer rarely has symptoms. That’s why Pap testing is so important – it can help diagnose pre-malignant conditions of the cervix prior to becoming cancer.”
When symptoms do arise, they can look like the warning signs of other reproductive system infections, diseases, or disorders. You should visit a medical professional if you’re experiencing pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding, painful urination, unusual discharge, abnormal menstrual cycles, pain or bleeding after intercourse, or urinary incontinence.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re experiencing anything out of the norm regarding your pelvic region or menstrual cycle, get it checked out by a doctor.
Most cases are preventable.
The most definitive way to avoid cervical cancer caused by HPV is to remain abstinent, but HPV vaccines are proven preventative tools as well.
Since HPV is so difficult to detect – often not presenting symptoms until too late, if at all – it’s important for young girls and boys to receive protection against the infection before being exposed to sexual activity and while their immune systems are at their strongest.
In the United States, there are three HPV vaccines approved to protect against HPV: Gardasil, Gardasil 9, and Cervarix.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends vaccinating children at age 11 or 12, though the vaccines are approved for females as young as 9 up to age 26 and males 9 to 21. Those who begin the series between the ages of 9 and 14 receive a two-dose schedule six to 12 months apart. For those between the ages of 15 and 26, a three-dose schedule is recommended over the course of six months.
The earlier cervical cancer is caught, the more successful your treatment is likely to be. Dr. Adams explains, “Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the diagnosed stage. If the cancer is confined to the cervix, a radical hysterectomy (removal of cervix and uterus) can be curative. If it has spread beyond the cervix, a woman often needs a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.”
Radiation therapy, which uses high-powered energy beams, can be pursued alone or in conjunction with chemotherapy to shrink a tumor by destroying cancer cells. Chemotherapy, which uses medications to kill cancer cells, can enhance the effects of radiation, which is why they are sometimes used together.
Depending on the stage of your cervical cancer, it may be possible to preserve your ability to conceive. If you desire to have children, speak to your doctor. Pregnancy is not always possible, but it’s important for your doctor to know when creating your treatment plan.
“Ultimately, minimizing your risk of cervical cancer is all about prevention,” Dr. Sherrow shares. “Get the HPV vaccine, limit your sexual exposure, eat healthier, stop smoking, and never skip your routine Pap test or gynecological appointment. When your health is taken care of, your immune system can clear up the issue before it advances.” As one of the few preventable cancers, there’s no reason it should be fatal. Be responsible and be vigilant!