More than 14,000 women a year hear the alarming news that they have cervical cancer. The good news is that that number is down at least 50% from the 1980s, thanks to increased awareness and the widespread use of an effective screening test called the Pap smear.
This quick test is a routine part of our women’s health services at the Women’s Center at Life Point Medical in Clayton, Georgia. Monique Petteys, FNP-C, provides comprehensive gynecological care for women throughout Northeast Georgia, and she understands the importance of early detection of cervical cancer.
Because it has no warning sign in the first stages, a Pap smear is the best way to detect changes in your cervical tissue cells that indicate we need to run more tests. Monique can put your mind at ease by using the Pap smear to rule out cervical cancer or by detecting it early, so you stand an excellent chance of survival. Here’s what you need to know about cervical cancer and early treatment.
Facts about cervical cancer
Although researchers are still exploring the causes of cervical cancer, it’s clear that human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main culprit. This sexually transmitted infection can alter the cells in your cervical tissue, which may lead to cancer. In the early stages, we can remove these cells and any trace of cancer along with them.
HPV is extremely common. Almost all sexually active people become infected, but only about half contract the high-risk type of the virus.
Cervical cancer can affect women of any age, but it’s most frequently diagnosed in women between 35 and 44.
Testing positive for HPV doesn’t mean you have cervical cancer or even that you’ll get it. But, other risk factors can make you more likely to develop cervical cancer, including: smoking, using birth control for a long time, or having had several children.
How we test for cervical cancer
Because cervical cancer doesn’t come with early warning signs, we use the Pap smear or Pap test to detect any changes in the cells and the HPV test to find out if you have the virus.
We routinely administer the Pap smear on all women between 21-65 years of age. Most women should get a Pap test every three to five years. We may suggest increasing frequency if you have an abnormal result or other health issues.
Monique often performs an HPV test along with your Pap test or as a standalone test to screen for HPV that may lead to cervical cancer.
Monique orders additional tests to detect or rule out cancer if either test is positive. It’s important to note that abnormal Pap smear results or a positive HPV test do not mean you have cancer. These tests only indicate the presence of the virus and abnormal cells that need further investigation.
How early cervical cancer treatment can save your life
In the later stages of cervical cancer, you may experience bleeding between menstrual cycles or abdominal cramping. While treatment is possible, your chance of survival drops as the disease progresses. Still, the death rate for cervical cancer is fairly low: about 2.2 fatalities per 100,000 women.
If we find your cervical cancer early, you can begin treatment immediately. The best type of treatment depends on the stage of your cancer, as well as its location, your age, and your overall health.
Some cases of cervical cancer require surgery to remove cancerous tissue, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of two or more. Your treatment plan will also hinge upon whether or not you would like to have children at a later date.
Fortunately, you can avoid the complications of late-stage cervical cancer by scheduling a routine Pap smear and HPV test. Call our office or book online and put your mind at ease.