Women diagnosed with cervical cancer (CerCA) often have misconceptions about this condition. Let’s go over some of the common myths and facts about CerCA.
Myth. Early CerCA often causes few symptoms. This is why regular screening is so important. More advanced CerCA might cause vaginal bleeding after sex or bleeding between menstrual cycles.
Fact. Nearly all cases of CerCA are caused by the high-risk strains of a sexually transmitted virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). We don’t yet exactly know why, but not all women with HPV infection develop CerCA. Factors such as HIV infection and smoking cigarettes make it easier for HPV to cause cancer on the cervix. High-risk HPVs not only cause CerCA but have also been linked to vaginal, vulvar, anal, penile and throat cancers.
Fact. Pap smear and HPV test are very effective in CerCA screening. The purpose of screening is to detect pre-cancers and treat before cancer occurs. There are also HPV vaccines for females between the ages of 9 and 26 that can significantly reduce the risk of pre-cancers and ultimately cancer.
Myth! While it is less common, CerCA can absolutely kill women in their 20s. It is therefore recommended that women start screening for CerCA at the age of 21 with Pap smears.
Fact. Less than 40 percent of women with advanced CerCA might actually live more than 5 years from the time of diagnosis. On the other hand, 9 out of 10 women with very early CerCA may be successfully cured. This stresses the importance of regular screening to detect early disease.
Take-home message: It is important to see your doctor at least yearly for health care maintenance and prevention.
Trung Nguyen and Valerie Sugiyama are gynecologic oncologists at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.