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What Every Woman Should Know About Cervical Cancer
Tanishia Wright and Senta Erbe

Every year about 10,520 women are diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer. Of these women, 3900 of them die from the disease. Throughout the years, the number of diagnosed cases has increased dramatically. Cervical Cancer affects 500,000 women each year. Unlike other forms of cancer, cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease medically termed Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the name given to the group of viruses that includes more than 70 different strains of the disease that cause warts in several areas of the body. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, and there is an estimated 20 million people infected with one version of the HPV strain. HPV is also one of the only viruses known to cause cancer in the cervix (National).

In their lifetime, it is estimated that 50% of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV. By the age of 50, about 80% of sexually active women will have been exposed to or have acquired HPV. No sexually active individual is immune to this disease, and the more partners an individual might have in their lifetime, the higher the risk for obtaining this disease will be (Health-Science).

What every woman should know about the HPV virus is that early detection can prevent the virus from fully growing in the cervix. HPV is the most common risk factor in the acquisition of cervical cancer. With an abnormal pap-smear, a physician might detect cervical dysplasia which is caused by HPV. Cervical dysplasia is a precursor to cervical cancer. However, not all cervical dysplasia lead to cervical cancer. A number of symptoms such as an abnormal vaginal discharge (pale, pink, brown, bloody, and fowl smelling) as well as abnormal vaginal bleeding, and genital warts can indicate infection of HPV (Health-Science).

However, the HPV strains have been divided into two groups being either “High Risk” or “Low Risk”. This categorization is solely based on their connection to cervical cancer. Some strands of HPV such as 6 and 11 cause genital warts but can be treated and rarely lead to cervical cancer. These are the “Low Risk” strands. However, strands 16, 18, 33, 35, and 45 are the “High Risk” strands for they have been the ones most associated with cervical cancer (Health-Science).

The people who contract HPV may not be aware of their acquisition of it, but if an abnormal pap-smear should indicate lesions, a healthcare provider should provide further analysis and test for pre-cancerous tissues that could indicate the presence of HPV and the type of strand it is.

The most dangerous aspect of this disease is the undiagnosed cases. Most infected people usually do not demonstrate any obvious symptoms, and their lack of yearly medical check-ups is low. Men or women can act as carriers of HPV, without any symptoms, and pass the virus unknowingly to their partner(s). HPV has been associated mostly with people that have been highly sexually active since an early age, with multiple partners, or those people engaged with people who have had multiple partners. Also, people with weakened immune systems are also at high risk. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers in developing cervical cancer (Health-Science)

In the first stages of the disease, there isn’t a diagnosis, but the detection of abnormal cells can be detected, treated, and healed. The only way to detect its presence is with routine pap-smear tests that screen for HPV pre-cancerous conditions. If abnormalities are detected, then treatment methods can be applied to restore the wellness of the patient. Methods of treatment are dependent on the patient’s age, sex, physical health, size and type of tumor (National).

Routine testing is the ultimate savior for HPV infected individuals. The Pap-smear (Papanicolaou smear) is one of the key early detection methods. With pap-smears, cervical cells are collected and smeared on a slide that will go under a microscopic examination at a specialized laboratory. There, lab specialists will study and search for any cell abnormalities present. This method has been widely used since its introduction in the 1950’s and is considered perhaps the best method of early detection. If abnormalities are found, then an HPV test will follow. Here, the abnormal pap-smear is further studied and it may offer vital information a physician may need to properly diagnose a patient. However, the HPV test is still under development, and there have been cases of cervical cancer without the presence of HPV as well as HPV cases without the cervical cancer. Studies to further understand the links are still underway (Health-Science).

HPV can be transmitted with direct skin contact with an infected source. Even the consistent use of condoms during intercourse will not guarantee immunity against the virus. Further, sanitation also plays a major role in the spread of HPV. There have been documented cases in which the virus was found underneath the fingernails of infected individuals. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is that early detection and the consistent use of preventive measures is the most secure way to prevent the development of cervical cancer (Anderson).

It is highly recommended to get bi-yearly check-ups for both women and men. If one lacks adequate medical insurance coverage, there are free clinics such as Planned Parenthood that will provide the test for you. Taking these preventative measures can save your life and the lives of others.






The Women’s College Magazine at Santa Monica College
Copyright 2003 Santa Monica College