January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Throughout the month, many organizations around the world help raise awareness for the cause. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition, NCCC, make it their mission to spread the word across the United States about cervical cancer, especially the importance of detecting it. NCCC provides many resources to educate those who are unfamiliar with this type of cancer.
According to Women’s Health, it is recommended to get a vaccination for human papillomavirus (HPV) because many cervical cancer cases are caused due to a woman contracting the infection. Also, regular pap tests can help early detection of cancer; it is recommended to have a pap smear every three years.
A pap smear is intended to look for cancerous or precancerous cells in the cervix. Women between the ages of 21 and 29 should get a pap test every three years. Women between the ages of 30 and 64 should either have an HPV test every five years or a pap test every three.
Mayo Clinic states that there are usually no symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer. However, when the cancer is more advanced, there are a few symptoms that appear. Symptoms can include vaginal bleeding in between menstruation cycles, after menopause, or after intercourse. There may also be vaginal discharge that smells foul or is heavy. There might also be pelvic pain or pain while having intercourse.
Before pap tests, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death for women, as reported by the American Cancer Society. The most common races to develop cervical cancer in North America are Hispanic women, African-American, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and white women.
It is rare for women under the age of 20 to be diagnosed, and more common for women between the ages of 35 to 44.
The American Cancer Society also estimated that approximately 13,240 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018, and about 4,170 women will die from it.
Many women have questions whether they will still be able to be sexually active and or have children in the future. ASCO mentions a couple of options to minimize these concerns, such as removing the cancerous tissue cells with an electric current that passes through a wire hook, having a hysterectomy, radical trachelectomy, or bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.
A hysterectomy includes the removal of the uterus and cervix. This procedure can also be a radical surgery that then goes further and removes the uterus, cervix, upper vagina, and the tissue around the women’s cervix.
Often, a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy is done at the same time as a hysterectomy. This procedure includes removing both fallopian tubes and both ovaries.
A radical trachelectomy is when the cervix is removed, but the uterus is left alone. The surgery includes a pelvic lymph node dissection, as well. This operation is more common for younger women who still want to have children in the future, as they can preserve their fertility. For many, this is the alternative to a hysterectomy.
When diagnosed with cancer, some people may want to know survival rates and some may not. This topic can be sensitive for patients, and the American Cancer Society wants to urge those who have been diagnosed with cancer that these survival rates can vary and to speak to a doctor for one’s specific survival rate.
The survival rate is put into a 5-year perspective, this meaning one’s expectancy to survive more than five years.
The ACSO states that the survival rate for those with precancerous cells present have a 93 percent 5-year survival rate.
Although stage one becomes more invasive and spreads to other areas, the 5-year survival rate is also about 93 percent.
Stage two means the cancer is beyond the cervix/ uterus. The 5-year survival rate is about 63 percent.
Stage three means cancer is present in the lower vagina or pelvic walls and the 5-year survival rate is 35 percent.
Stage four means the cancer has moved way beyond the cervix and will later affect organs such as the liver and lungs; the 5-year survival rate is only about 16 percent.
There have been many advancements in the treatment and prevention of cervical cancer, one of them being a sentinel lymph node biopsy. This procedure is when a few lymph nodes are removed to check for cancer spread, rather than the removal of many.
Currently, there are also trial runs for Immunotherapy, when medicine called immune checkpoint inhibitors put the immune system in a resting state. This medicine is not yet known to help the treatment for the cancer, but studies are still being run.
Targeted therapy has been seen to help target specific cancer cells. These targeted cells try to prevent the growth of cancer cells; this therapy has shown to have less severe side effects for patients.
Hyperthermia is also a growing practice. This procedure is when hyperthermia is added to radiation to help cancer cells from returning, also allowing the patients to live longer. The hyperthermia is targeted to the areas where cancer has spread, in attempts to prevent it from returning to that spot.
Even with modern advancements in the world of cancer, the word “cancer” is still detrimental to those who are diagnosed.
Recently, a young Youtuber who goes by the screen name Sarahs Day documented her thoughts about being told her pap smear came back with abnormal cells. When Sarah got the call from her doctor about abnormal cells on her cervix, she did not know what it meant. After Sarah told her she was confused, her doctor clarified and said Sarah has CIN 3.
The Australian Youtuber went on to add that CIN 3 is cervical dysplasia, and she currently is at level three; this means she is at the most high-risk stage for cervical cancer.
“It was just like a big shock I guess. A lot of women get it. Apparently, it’s like 80 percent of women will contract it at one time or another in their life… With stage three a lot of your cervix is covered with the abnormal cells,” adds Sarah.
In fact, National Cervical Cancer Coalition states that about 80 percent of women will contract HPV that can lead to cervical cancer by age 50.
She says that the next step in this journey is to book an appointment with her gynecologist for a colposcopy.
However, even though this news was a shock to her, she is determined to be proactive about attempting to help cure her body the best she can, “I’m going to be proactive. I obviously care about my body more than anyone in the world.”
Sarah goes on to say she has researched ways to alter her diet to help her immune system fight off the abnormal cells. “How amazing would it be if I got to my gynecologist appointment on the eighteenth of January and they turned around and said oh my gosh your cervix is fine, you’ve cured yourself. So, that is my goal and what I am setting my sights on right now.”
There are many advancements in research to help fight off or treat cancer. January is dedicated to spreading awareness to those who may not know much about cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is very common in women and should not be taken lightly; so, to catch the diagnosis in time, as mentioned before, it is recommended for women to have a pap test every three years.