All About Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer to strike at a woman's reproductive organs and most cases of cervical cancer begin with one or another strain of the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD).

Dormant State

For most women, HPV isn't much of a threat and their bodies manage to fight off the virus before it can do any serious damage. But for a small number of women, the virus stays alive in a dormant state, often for years, and then at some point changes the outer cells of the cervix to a cancerous state. The cervix, located at the highest point of the vaginal canal, is the neck of the female uterus.

With the advent of the Pap smear screening test some 50 years ago, the mortality rate from cervical cancer has been much reduced. Cervical cancer is rare in women younger than 30 years of age.

Treatable Stage

Cancer of the cervix can be treated if caught at its earliest stage, but most women don't have symptoms during this treatable period of the disease. This is why the Pap smear is an invaluable diagnostic tool, since it can detect very early cell changes. As the cancer advances, a woman may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

*Vaginal bleeding after menopause, after sex, and in between menstrual periods

*Pain during sex

*Pelvic pain

*Vaginal discharge of a bloody, watery nature. The discharge may be profuse and may have an unpleasant odor.

Some risk factors for cervical cancer are unavoidable, while other risk factors can be modified or lessened. Here are some of the risk factors that may leave a woman vulnerable for developing this type of cancer:

*Engaging in sex at an early age—girls who become sexually active before they turn 18 raise their risk for HPV and their younger cells are more susceptible to the precancerous cellular alterations that are seen with HPV.

*Multiple partners—the larger the number of sexual partners you have, the greater your chances for developing HPV. If you are loyal to your partner, but he plays the field, your risk remains the same.

*STD's other than HPV—if you have chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or HIV/AIDS you have a higher risk for having HPV, too.

*Compromised immune system—most women who contract HPV never have cancer, but if your immune system is weakened and you develop HPV, your risk for cervical cancer is higher.

*Cigarette smoking—the reason why smoking causes cervical cancer is still a mystery, but it is known that smoking raises a woman's risk for cervical cancer. If you smoke and have HPV, the risk is even stronger.