Cervical cancer is a dangerous form of cancer that impacts thousands of women each year. The American Cancer Society estimates that cervical cancer will kill more than 4,000 women in 2021. The good news is it’s also one of the most preventable forms of cancer. Dr. Rebecca Alicandro, OBGYN for Rochester Regional Health, discusses how women can recognize signs of cervical cancer, best prevention tips, and what they should know about the role of annual screenings and well-woman exams.
Unfortunately, it’s more common for women with cervical cancer to show no signs or symptoms at all. However, cervical cancer may present in a pap test during a well-woman exam. Occasionally, women with cervical cancer will have some abnormal vaginal discharge or irregular bleeding.
The average age of diagnosis for cervical cancer is around 50, but cervical cancer can affect anyone. People who are most likely to get cervical cancer are those who have not had a pap test recently (within the past five years) or who otherwise do not access health care on a regular basis for various reasons.
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus virus (HPV). It’s estimated that 80% of women will have HPV at some point in their life. Like many other viruses such as the common cold or the flu, most of the time a healthy immune system will fight off this virus without issue. If the HPV infection persists, it can cause damage to the cells which can lead to cervical cancer. This usually happens slowly, over the course of 10 to 20 years.
Women who are immunocompromised and women who smoke are at a greater risk for cervical cancer since their immune systems have a harder time getting rid of the HPV infection.
There are two important prevention methods:
There’s a lot we can do before it even becomes cervical cancer. If we see HPV or abnormal cells on your pap test, then we can do biopsies or minor procedures to remove the abnormal cells. If we do find cancer, you will be referred to an oncologist who can discuss your best treatment options.
The purpose of a well-woman exam is to make sure you’re up-to-date on your screening and prevention tests and also offer an age-appropriate physical exam. As a gynecologist, I focus a lot on breast and pelvic health. We discuss your family history, your personal health history and other factors related to your health and well-being. We do a pelvic exam if needed and make sure you’re up-to-date with your pap. It’s a great opportunity to provide education and counseling around staying healthy during all phases of life.
Call 585-922-LINK to schedule your well-woman exam
The Rochester Regional Health Women’s Health providers try to emphasize the importance for all women to have knowledge of their history and their test results. Being an advocate for yourself and understanding why it’s important to follow up and when is one of the best prevention tools in the fight against cervical cancer.
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