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Cervical cancer


The cervix is the bottom part of the uterus. It is the outside part of the uterus that can be viewed when a healthcare provider looks through the vaginal canal during a speculum exam. 


Risk factors of cervical cancer include the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), tobacco use, having a weakened immune system, certain sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, a history of Diethylstilbestrol (DES) hormonal medication use, and a family history of cervical cancer. 


In early cervical cancer, there generally are no symptoms. Then, when abnormal cells begin to affect healthy tissues, symptoms may include:

  • abnormal bleeding

  • abnormal discharge

  • pelvic pain

  • pain after sex


The screening for cervical cancer is a PAP (Papanicolaou) smear. A healthcare provider collects a sample of cervical cells by gently placing a swab on the cervix to look for pre-cancerous cells. It is recommended to begin having a PAP smear at the age of 21 if you are not living with HIV. If normal, patients should continue to have a PAP smear to screen for cervical cancer every 3 years. At the age of 30, PAP smear is often paired with an HPV test to look for strains of the HPV virus that are more likely to cause cervical cancer. If the PAP smear identifies abnormal cells, patients are generally referred for further testing to look more closely at abnormal cells on the cervix, called a colposcopy. 


If cervical cancer is diagnosed, patients are provided options of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy. 


The American Cancer Society reports that people who smoke are two times more likely to be diagnosed with cervical cancer than people who don’t smoke. Therefore, cutting down or cutting out tobacco use can decrease your cancer risk in many ways. Some research also suggests that patients who use intrauterine devices (IUDs) have a lower risk of cervical cancer.

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