What is cervical cancer?

When cancer begins in the cervix, which is the lower end of the uterus closest to the vagina, it is called cervical cancer. While there are different types, the two main types are squamous cell carcinoma (formed on the thin, flat cells lining the cervix) and adenocarcinoma (formed on the cells that produce mucous and fluid).

Causes of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is more common in women over 30 and is most often caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) although not everyone who has HPV will get cervical cancer. Other risk factors for the disease include smoking, having HIV (or a condition that compromises your immune system), long-term use of birth control pills, having given birth more than three times, and having multiple sexual partners.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

There are often no symptoms associated with cervical cancer except when the disease has become more advanced, in which case you may experience irregular bleeding or discharge, such as bleeding after sexual intercourse.

In the early stages, however, it is highly treatable, and is also highly preventable with a routine Pap test (smear) and HPV test. It is recommended that women who are 21 to 65 years old receive a Pap test as recommended by your doctor.*

You may also wish to be co-tested for HPV. The virus can be contracted by men or women regardless of whether or not a condom was worn during sex. Vaccination for HPV is recommended for boys and girls starting at age 11 or 12 and up to age 26. For women who have already had the HPV vaccine, you will still to need get your regular Pap screening as well.

* For some it may be annual, for others it may be every three years. If you have had a hysterectomy or are over the age of 65 with no abnormal Pap results in the last few years, you may wish to ask your doctor about whether or not to continue with Pap tests.

Cervical cancer early detection

At Main Line Health we can detect cervical cancer with a Pap smear. During a Pap smear, a swab is inserted into the vagina and a sample of your cells is taken from your cervix. Pap smears can identify pre-cancerous cells so our doctors can stop cancer before it forms. When cervical cancer is detected early, treatments are often more effective at eliminating cancer and keeping it from coming back.

If you have a Pap smear that reveals cancerous or pre-cancerous cells, your doctor may recommend these tests to confirm cancer is present:

These advanced diagnostic tests give our doctors valuable information about your specific type of cervical cancer. Main Line Health experts can then design treatment plans that are personalized to your needs.

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