Cervical cancer is a serious women's health issue. While many women go to their doctor yearly for testing in order to detect cancer and other problems early, many other women ignore this important examination (Gadducci, et al., 2011; Harper, 2004). Additionally, women who have symptoms of cervical cancer often avoid seeing their doctor. They may not have health insurance, they may be frightened, or they may think that something less serious is the cause of their symptoms (Peto, 2004). Because of that, they put off being tested for cancer through a pap smear. If any of these women do develop cervical cancer, their treatment will be more difficult because their disease will have advanced further since it was not caught early. That is something worth considering for any woman who is not sure if she wants to get an exam or has been avoiding an examination for lack of insurance, fear, or any other reason.
The most common symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding (Luhn, 2013; Peto, 2004). This is the symptom that will send the majority of women to their doctor, but there are also times when cervical cancer remains asymptomatic until it is in the late stages. There can also be pelvic and back pain, leg pain and swelling, and vaginal discharge, along with pain during intercourse (Peto, 2004). At that point it can be much harder to cure, and may have spread to other organs and tissues, as well. That can take something with a good survival rate and make it very difficult to cure. Early detection is the key. Women who see their doctor regularly are more likely to get that early detection. While a diagnosis of cervical cancer can be frightening, it is often less scary if it is caught early enough and is found to be much more treatable.
The seriousness of cervical cancer must be noted. All too often, women do not take this particular threat seriously. That can be because they have no family history of the disease, or because they do not feel comfortable seeing their doctor about such a private area. Depending on the country and the culture, adequate medical care and testing may not be available. Nearly 80% of all the cervical cancer found each year is in countries that are still developing, with the rest being seen in developed countries like the U.S. And countries in Europe (Gadducci, et al., 2011). The main reason that there are fewer cases of cervical cancer in developed countries is due to the fact that there is much more testing in those countries. Developing countries often do not offer the same kinds of tests, and the tests they do have are not given to enough people to really make a difference in saving lives. For women who have good testing available, seeing their doctor for that testing regularly is important.
There are several things that can cause cervical cancer. Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the most common (Gadducci, et al., 2011; Luhn, 2013). The idea that a virus causes cancer can seem strange to some people, but that is exactly what happens. Women get HPV through sexual contact with others who are infected (Luhn, 2013). Once they contract it, their risk of getting cervical cancer goes up significantly. It is estimated that nearly 90% of the women who acquire cervical cancer do so because they contracted HPV (Luhn, 2013). While many HPV infections clear up on their own with no side effects, that is not the case for all of them. Those that do not clear up properly can lead to other problems, and cervical cancer is one of those problems. Overall, HPV is very curable. Most women do not know they have it, and it clears up on its own.
Smoking is another cause of cervical cancer. Women who smoke are much more likely to develop the disease (Gadducci, et al., 2011). While that may seem odd because smoking is generally thought to cause problems with the heart and lungs, and not with the reproductive organs, smoking is very damaging to the body on many levels. It creates damage all throughout the body, which can manifest itself in many different ways (Peto, 2004). Women who smoke are putting themselves at risk for cervical cancer, but the good news is that their risk will go down once they stop smoking. Since quitting smoking is so very important for a multitude of reasons, it is important that women who smoke work with their doctors to find ways in which they can break the habit and protect their long-term health, reproductive and otherwise (Gadducci, et al., 2011).
Having a family history of cancer, cervical or otherwise, does not mean that a woman will get cancer, as well. However, it does raise her risk significantly if there is a strong family history, especially if that history is of a specific type of cancer (Peto, 2004). With that in mind, women who have a family history of cervical and other types of cancer will want to work with their doctors in order to make sure they are being tested frequently enough to catch problems before they can become too serious (Peto, 2004). Finding health problems of any kind early is often the best course because they can then be easier to correct. If women decide to get tested frequently, they will be lowering their risk of cervical cancer, and can be treated much more easily if they do develop the disease.
National Guidelines and Evidence-Based Practice
When it comes to taking care of women and making sure they are protecting themselves, there is great value in early detection of cervical cancer and other problems. That is important to remember when women are making choices about their reproductive health and what they want to do to make sure they remain healthy and strong. With that in mind, there are several ways they can get tested or help to reduce their risk. Pap smears are very important, as are biopsies if the pap smear shows abnormal cells. Women can also get vaccinated against HPV, seriously reducing the risk of getting the disease. Proper nutrition and condom use are also important ways to lower HPV and other STD risk, thereby lowering the risk of cervical cancer (Gadducci, et al., 2011). With that in mind, it becomes important to discuss each one of these preventative and testing measures, in order to understand their value and why women should be more focused on them.
Pap smears are the main line of defense against cervical cancer. These are generally non-invasive tests where a swab of cells are taken from the cervix (Luhn, 2013). These are then sent to a lab where they are examined for abnormalities of any kind. Nearly anything wrong with a woman's cervix can be detected that way (Luhn, 2013). Simple problems like yeast infections and other minor issues can be spotted and quickly addressed, and women can also be notified of abnormal cells that could be cancerous or precancerous (Gadducci, et al., 2011). That can mean that cancer and the potential for cancer can be detected well before it causes any significant problem for the woman, which can lead to lifesaving treatments (Gadducci, et al., 2011; Harper, 2004). Most doctors provide women with pap smears every year and recommend them, but guidelines are changing somewhat. Now, there are doctors who are recommending every three to five years on a pap smear, provided the last smear was normal and there are not other problems that need to be addressed (Luhn, 2013). That guideline is for women starting with their first recommended pap smear at 21 years old, and running until they can safely discontinue them at between 60 and 70 years of age (Luhn, 2013).
Biopsies are also highly valuable in the fight against cervical cancer (Peto, 2004). These are conducted if a pap smear comes back with abnormal cells. They are done to get more information about a woman's cervix, and to check for the presence of cancer (Peto, 2004). They are not always recommended after an abnormal pap smear, depending on what the lab discovers from the original test. While it can seem frightening to get a biopsy, they are relatively painless and can help save lives by detecting cancer (Peto, 2004). If a doctor recommends that a woman have a biopsy, there is generally good reason to do so, and it would be important for the woman to comply with that request in order to see whether she had a serious illness that would require treatment.
Vaccinations are an excellent way for a woman to protect herself. The vaccination for HPV is recommended for women up to 26 years of age, because it needs to be given before a woman is exposed to the HPV virus (Luhn, 2013). After that age, it is assumed that the woman…