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Cervical Cancer Research: The Basics

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Reduce your risk and learn how to prevent cervical cancer with the right knowledge.

In 2020, there could be as many as 13,800 cases of and 4,290 deaths from cervical cancer. January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, which means now is the time to step up and learn how you can reduce your risk and make the most of early detection. 

What is cervical cancer?  

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, or the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) cause most forms, such as HPV types 16 and 18.  

Early cervical cancer and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms and often don’t present any until the cancer becomes more advanced. The most common symptoms are: 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding  
  • Unusual discharge from the vagina  
  • Pain during sex  
  • Pain in the pelvic region  

Many of these symptoms can be caused by a variety of other health conditions but should be taken seriously if they arise. If you or someone you know is experiencing such symptoms, see a healthcare provider right away. Doing so can help with early detection of any harmful growth.   

While cervical cancer cases have decreased over time, it remains a significant risk to racial and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. Commonly, serious cervical cancer cases are found in Black and Hispanic women.  

This is due to a lack of fair health insurance and medical accessibility that prevents screening and early detection opportunities among these groups.  

How does screening work? 

Screening is performed by a healthcare provider for the Pap smear and the HPV test, and is recommended for anyone with a cervix starting at the age of age 21. This includes a Pap smear, a.k.a. a Pap test, every 3 years until age 29. Between ages 30 – 65, a Pap smear is recommended every 3 years.  

Along with a Pap test, a healthcare provider may recommend something called a co-test, which includes a high-risk HPV test in combination with a Pap smear every 5 years. The co-test is another important part of the screening process.  

Both tests are performed the same way and can be done at the same time. During a vaginal exam, a special stick or brush is used to collect cells from the cervix and vagina. This isn’t painful, but it may feel uncomfortable for a few moments until the cells have been collected and the exam is over. Once the cells are collected, they are sent off to a lab for testing. 

Depending on your personal needs and the guidelines issued by the American Cancer Society, your healthcare provider may recommend screening starting at25.  

How can I prevent cervical cancer? 

To help prevent cervical cancer, you can: 

  • Get the HPV vaccine to prevent HPV and other HPVrelated cancers. The HPV vaccine is very safe, effective and provides long-lasting protection from HPV-related cancers. It’s recommended all children ages 11-12 receive the HPV vaccination.  

If you haven’t gotten the HPV vaccination, talk with your healthcare provider to see if you should. 

  • Practice safe sex by using condoms or dental dams every time you have sex to reduce your chances of getting an STI. 
  • Get screened on a routine basis for cervical cancer to catch any early signs. The earlier you know if you have it, the easier it will be to successfully treat.  

Cervical cancer screening is essential. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear – get screened as soon as possible and keep up with a routine that’s appropriate for your age. Visit KeepRelationshipsReal.com to connect with a healthcare provider who can help you.