Cervical cancer continues to affect women of all ages worldwide. The disease often presents no symptoms in its early stages, which is why it is often referred to as one of the “silent killers.”
- Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another through sexual activity.
- With the advent of the HPV vaccine and regular Pap screening tests, most cervical cancers can now be prevented.
- In 2021, it is estimated that 14,480 women will be diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer in the U.S. and 4,290 patients will lose their battle with the disease.
- Although the number of new cases has been declining over the past decades in the U.S., thanks to Pap screening, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer for women worldwide.
Source: American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures 2021 and National Cancer Institute’s Fact Sheet Cervical Cancer
Signs and Symptoms
A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- An unusual discharge from the vagina
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvic region
- Swelling of the legs (ADVANCED)
- Problems urinating or having a bowel movement
- Blood in the urine
Source: American Cancer Society
Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is recognized in January. To help accelerate cures please make a gift today.
Researchers Working on Cervical Cancer
The Powerful Impact of the HPV Vaccine on Cervical Cancer Cases
Cervical cancer cases are declining, and we can thank the HPV vaccine! Each year, cervical cancer claims the lives of over 300,000 women. This disease affects women of all ages worldwide, often presenting without symptoms giving it the nickname “silent killer.” Thankfully, due to screening and HPV vaccines, diagnoses in the U.S. have declined over the past decade. How Does the Vaccine Prevent Cervical Cancer? Researchers state that human papillomaviruses, or HPV, cause 99% of cervical cancers. HPV is most commonly a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, most sexually active people will be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Some will be repeatedly infected. While nine out of 10 HPV infections go away by themselves in two years, others lead to cancer of the reproductive system, mainly cervical cancer. HPV also can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, and oropharyngeal cancer (throat, tongue, and tonsils). As the HPV vaccine prevents future infections and cannot rid the body of the virus, it is best for children before becoming sexually active. Where It All Started In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved an HPV vaccine called Gardasil, which initially protected against four strains of HPV. In 2014, Gardasil 9 was introduced, which protected against five additional strains – nine in total. The developers of Gardasil, Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., and John T. Schiller, Ph.D., changed the cervical cancer landscape and have saved hundreds of thousands of lives with their vaccine. In 2018, the National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) awarded Lowy and Schiller the Szent-Györgyi Prize for Progress in Cancer Research. The Prize was awarded to them to recognize the team as ‘true heroes in the fight against cancer. What Does Today’s Research Say? There have been some extraordinary findings regarding the HPV vaccine this year. Most notably, Cancer Research U.K. announced that the HPV vaccine is cutting cases of cervical cancer by nearly 90%. The study looked at what happened after the vaccine was introduced for girls in England in 2008. Those girls are now adults in their 20s. The study showed a reduction in pre-cancerous growths and an 87% reduction in cervical cancer. The reductions were less dramatic when older teenagers were immunized as part of a catch-up campaign. This is because fewer older teenagers decided to have the jab, and they may already have been sexually active. Overall, the study estimated that the HPV program had prevented about 450 cancers and 17,200 pre-cancers. That’s Not All… At the 2021 International Papillomavirus Conference in Toronto, researchers were pleased to share that a recent study provided evidence that a single-dose HPV vaccine was highly effective. This randomized controlled trial of 2,275 women in Kenya showed that a single dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was highly effective. The current standard for women is a three-dose regimen. In the trial, women 15 to 20 years old were randomly assigned treatment and followed from December 2018 to June 2021: 760 received a bivalent vaccine that covered two strains of HPV (16/18), which represent 70% of cases; 758 received a nonavalent vaccine that covered seven strains of HPV (16/18/31/33/45/52/58), which represent 90% of cases; 757 received a […]
NEW Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines
Buried amongst the pandemic commotion was American Cancer Society’s newest cervical cancer screening guidelines. Cervical cancer affects women of all ages worldwide and is often dubbed ‘the silent killer’ as it presents with no symptoms in the early stages. Luckily there is an effective screening method to help reduce the number of late-stage diagnoses. Though the latest guidelines were announced in July 2020, Cervical Cancer Awareness Month is an excellent time to remind people of these latest changes. Who should get screened? People with a cervix aged from 25 years to 65 years should get screened. People over the age of 65 who have had regular screening in the past 10 years with normal results and no history of abnormal cells in the cervix (nor a more serious diagnosis in the part 25 years) should stop cervical screening. Once stopped, it should not be started again. People who have had a total hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) should stop screening unless the hysterectomy was done as a treatment for cervical cancer or serious pre-cancer. However, those who have had a supra-cervical hysterectomy (hysterectomy without the removal of the cervix) should continue cervical cancer screening in adherence to the guidelines. Cervical cancer screening should continue even after having children and after being vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV). What is the recommended way to get screened? The preferred screening is to get a primary HPV test every five years. A primary HPV test is an HPV test that is done by itself for screening. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved certain tests to be primary tests, however these may not be widely available in the United States yet. For those who do not have access to a primary HPV test, it is recommended to either undergo a co-test every five years, which combines an HPV test with a pap test OR schedule a pap test alone every three years. Why should I get screened? Being screened for cervical cancer allows medical professionals to identify pre-cancers that are likely to progress to cancer and remove them before they are able to progress. Screening also allows medical teams to identify cervical cancer at an early stage, when it is mostly easily treated. What happens if the results come back abnormal? Abnormal results are frightening, but it’s important to be prepared. If results come back abnormal, discuss the results carefully with the healthcare team. It is important to understand what the results mean and know the course of action for what is to come. The healthcare team will discuss follow-up schedules, tests, and treatment options depending on the specific risk of developing cervical cancer. However, if any issues or concerns arise between screenings or appointments, see a doctor right away. Symptoms of cervical cancer include unusual bleeding, unusual discharge from the vagina, or pain during sex and, if experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a screening as soon as possible. It’s important to remember that you should consult your doctor on all of your health questions and prior to making important decisions regarding your healthcare. Additional Reads You […]