Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Cervical Cancer: A Pap Test Can Save Your Life

Female Reproductive System
Amid the enthusiasm to disseminate knowledge on breast health, it's worth while to review what we really know about another important condition--Cervical Cancer. In the illustration on the left, you can see that the cervix is the narrow part that connects a woman's uterus and vagina; it's part of the woman's reproductive system as it produces the mucus necessary to move sperm from the vagina to the uterus. The monthly period blood shed from the uterus passes through the cervix to the vagina and out. Cervical cancer affects this vital organ in us women.

It's essential to know how this type of cancer develops in order to avoid a negative outcome. In the beginning, the "cells of the cervix start to change and become abnormal;" such cells are identified as "precancerous" (not cancer yet). The cervix's precancerous changes are called "cervical dysplasia." If the cervical dysplasia is not treated, it can develop into cervical cancer. Most women who have this dysplasia do not end up developing cervical cancer (1).

The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is "infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)," but other risk factors include smoking, multiple pregnancies, and sexual activity with a person(s) having the HPV virus. To reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer, "have regular Pap tests to help find abnormal changes in the cervix early" (1). You can also talk to your doctor about getting HPV vaccine. Not smoking and eating well and including sufficient vegetables and fruit in your diet may also help protecting your cervix from negative changes. Just like breast cancer, early detection increases chances of treatment success!

Early symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting, pain during sexual intercourse, clear watery

discharge from the vagina, and foul smelling vaginal discharge.

Among the later signs of cervical cancer are pain in the pelvic area or lower back, swelling in the legs, changes in bladder habits, blood in the urine, and loss of bladder control.

Screening, yes.. In Canada, we are lucky that it's recommended women between 21 and 69 who are sexually active are recommended to undergo cervical cancer screening or Pap test, which is not an invasive procedure; on the contrary, it merely includes takes a smear of the uterine lining! It is essential to know that the decision to not take such important tests or to stop taking them is up to your doctor as they will recommend the best outcome according to your risk factors. For example, even if a woman is not sexually active, she can still be subject to higher risk factors.

For more information on the frequency of Pap testing and HPV testing, talk to your doctor and check's website here.

Finally, here are the statistics here in Canada for 2013:
  • 1,450 Canadian women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer.
  • 380 women will die from cervical cancer in Canada.
And "based on 2007 estimates, about 1 in 145 Canadian women is expected to develop cervical cancer during her lifetime and 1 in 443 will die from it" (1).

It is interesting to know that the US has introduced a vaccine for cervical cancer and it has since cut down on cases of HPV virus infection. Check this piece of news in the Globe and Mail 6 days ago:

"The U.S. introduction of a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in 2006 has reduced infections with the human papillomavirus or HPV - the sexually transmitted virus that causes the disease - by more than half among girls and young women, U.S. health officials said on Wednesday.
The results were better than expected and may even suggest that unvaccinated individuals are benefiting because of a drop in the number of infections circulating, the team reported in the Journal of Infectious Diseases."

Remember "It's not just the boobs!"a Pap test can save your life! Talk to your doctor now and stay healthy and happy.

(2) Screening for Life:
(3) The Globe and Mail:


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