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Cervical Cancer: Regular screening is essential

Certain types of cancer may not produce symptoms until the condition becomes more advanced and more difficult to treat. In those cases, screening becomes even more important than usual. Cervical cancer is one cancer in which regular screenings are vital to monitoring one’s health.

Cervical cancer affects the part of the female reproductive system that connects the birth canal to the uterus. Sometimes cells in the cervix change over time – a process known as dysplasia. These abnormal cervical cells can progress into cancer.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) virus is the leading cause of changes in the cervix that lead to cancer. HPV is a very common virus that is usually resolved by the body’s immune system without incident. If an HPV infection lingers, however, it can cause the changes in the cervical cells that can lead to cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 14,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in a year.

“While all women are at risk for cervical cancer, the greatest risk is present between the ages of 21 and 65,” said Liane Gozmao, MD, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology with MRMG OB-GYN in Columbia and Spring Hill. “It is important for women to have regular screenings that allow a physician to check for signs of abnormal cells in the cervix that could develop into cancer.”

Changes to cervical cells can be detected by a screening test known as a Pap test. This exam is performed in a doctor’s office to check for signs of abnormal cells on the cervix. If the sample taken during the exam shows signs of dysplasia, your doctor may recommend a follow-up exam.

Pap tests are recommended for women age 21 to 64. Some doctors recommend testing every year, while others recommend testing less frequently such as once every two to three years as long as previous tests are normal. Women should speak to their doctor about the screening schedule that is right for their health.

Signs of cervical cancer often occur when the cancer is at a more advanced stage. These symptoms include:

  • Bleeding or spotting between periods, after intercourse or after menopause
  • Heavier than normal menstrual cycles
  • Increased discharge
  • Pain in the pelvic area or back

Any of these symptoms should be reported to your doctor as soon as they appear.

“Because signs of cervical cancer often do not present at an early stage, it is extremely important for a woman to discuss any concerning changes in bleeding or pain with her physician,” said Dr. Gozmao.

Vaccination is available to protect against HPV infection and substantially lower the risk of cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV. The HPV vaccine is a two-dose series recommended at ages 11-12 for males and females. Everyone up to age 26 should get the HPV vaccine in order to protect them against future HPV infections. If you are a parent, consult your child’s pediatrician or ask your own primary care provider about the HPV vaccine. See the recommendations here.

Liane Gozmao, MD, is a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology with MRMG OB-GYN in Columbia and Spring Hill.




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