January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and I didn’t want to let this month come to a close without talking about cervical cancer.
In the United States, cervical cancer is the third most common gynecologic cancer diagnosis and cause of death. This is different globally where is the fourth most common cancer overall. In 2020, there was an estimated 604,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 342,000 deaths from cervical cancer worldwide. Approximately 90% of the new cases and deaths occurred in low and middle income countries, in part because these countries do not have the same access to cervical cancer screening and prevention programs that exist in the US.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality among females in Africa and in Central America.
There are five KEY facts that I want to share with you about cervical cancer:
1) Incidence and mortality for cervical cancer varies depending on race and ethnicity. According to the American Cancer Society, Hispanic American and Black American have the highest incidence of cervical cancer diagnosis. Black women have a much higher risk of dying from cervical cancer than white women (studies range anywhere from 1.5 to three times higher risk of death).
2) In almost all cases, cervical cancer is due to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Risk factors associated with HPV-related cancers are early onset of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, high-risk sexual partner, history of sexually transmitted infections, early age at first birth and increasing parity (>3 or more full term births), history of vulvar or vaginal squamous intra-epithelial neoplasia or cancer, and immunosuppression (HIV, infection). Smoking is a significant risk factor for non HPV related cervical cancer.
3) Cervical cancer screening can detect precursors to early cervical cancer and also early stage disease and treatment can prevent the development of invasive cervical cancer and reduce death from cervical cancer. Current methods for cervical cancer screening are the Pap smear test and HPV testing.
4) The HPV vaccine is approved for the prevention of cervical cancer caused from HPV. It also can prevent precancerous or dysplastic cervical lesions caused by HPV.
5) Early cervical cancer is frequently asymptomatic and this is why screening is so important. For those who are presenting with symptoms, the most common ones are irregular or heavy vaginal bleeding or postcoital bleeding (occurring during or after sexual intercourse). Some patients ma also present with a vaginal discharge. Symptoms of more advanced disease can include pelvic or lower back pain, and bowel or urinary symptoms.
Use this post as a reminder to schedule yourself for cervical cancer screening if you are behind (as many are because of the pandemic) or reach out to a friend or family member and encourage them to get screened!
I’d love to hear any comments or questions that you have!