January is the month for Cervical Cancer Awareness and with most cancers we know that prevention and early detection is better than cure. Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer amongst women. It is commonly caused by the Human Papillomavirus or HPV virus.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is usually harmless and shows no symptoms. There are approximately 200 types of HPV. Though the virus is self limiting there are some strains of HPV that causes genital warts and cancers of the cervix, penis, anus and even throat.
HPV can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, or even oral sex with someone who has the virus. Most commonly vaginal and anal sex. HPV can still be passed on even when if the infected person has no signs or symptoms and anyone who is sexually active can get HPV. The most common symptom of HPV infection is genital warts. However a person who does not have the type of HPV which codes for genital warts may not show this symptom.
How to prevent contracting HPV?
HPV vaccine is available and is routinely given to all females after the age of 11, but can be given as early as age 9. Males are also given the vaccine from the age of 13. This vaccine helps prevent HPV types 16 and 18 which causes cancer as well as type 6 and 11 which causes genital warts.
The vaccine is given over a period of 6-12 months. For persons ages 9-14, it is given as two injections six to twelve months apart. For persons ages 15-45, the HPV vaccine is given as 3 separate injections. The second dose is given 2 months after the first, and the third dose is given 4 months after the second dose.
However the vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women.
Preventing Cervical Cancer
Along with the HPV vaccine, having a yearly pap smear is very important and helps with monitoring any development of abnormal growth of cells as well as early detection of cervical cancer.
Pap smears are recommended every three years for woman between the ages of 21-65 years old. It is not recommended for women younger then 21 years or women older than 65 years unless indicated.
During a papsmear the doctor or nurse will take two samples of the cells of the cervix using a small brush for the inside of the cervix and a spatula on the surface. These samples are then sprayed with a solution and smeared onto a glass slide for evalutation under a microscope.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer include:
1) Spotting or bleeding between periods
2) Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
3) Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
4) Bleeding after sex, douching, or a pelvic examination
5) increase vaginal discharge with a strong odor or blood
6) Spotting or bleeding after menopause
7) Unexplained, persistent pelvic or lower back pain
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your GP or gynecologist.
Remember prevention and early detection is better than cure.