How much do you know about cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix.

These abnormal cells can develop into tumours and in worst-case scenarios – spread throughout the body. The cervix is part of the female reproductive system and is the narrow lower portion (or ‘neck’) of the uterus.

How do you get cervical cancer?

The risk factors associated with cervical cancer are:

  • Infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Smoking
  • Weak immune system
  • Family history
  • Exposure to Diethylstilboestrol or DES (an oestrogen medication prescribed to pregnant women from the 1940s to the early 1970s)
  • Lack of regular cervical screening tests.

What is the Human papillomavirus (HPV)?

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection with the HPV.

HPV is an extremely common group of viruses that can affect both males and females. In most people, HPV is harmless and has no symptoms, but in some people the virus may persist and lead to diseases of the genital area, including genital warts and cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva and anus.

How can HPV cause cervical cancer?

After entering the body, HPV will behave in one of two ways: either remaining dormant (inside the body’s cells), or becoming active.

In most cases, the body’s immune system will clear the virus from the body naturally within 14 months. If the immune system does not clear a HPV infection, it can cause normal cells in the lining of the cervix to turn abnormal. In rare cases this can develop into cervical cancer.

Are there any symptoms of cervical cancer?

If early cell changes develop into cervical cancer, the most common symptoms that might be present are:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Lower back pain
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Leg pain or swelling.

These symptoms can also be caused by other more common conditions so please don’t panic if you do experience them.

However, see your Pascoe Vale GP if you’re worried or if the symptoms are ongoing. If necessary, your GP will refer you for further tests.

In many cases cervical cancer does not usually carry any external symptoms until it is in advanced stages. That’s why the Cervical Screening Test (see below) is so important.

How can you prevent cervical cancer?

There are two ways to prevent cervical cancer: vaccination and cervical screening.

The HPV vaccine protects against nine of the main HPV types that cause 90% of cervical cancer.

In December 2017, the 5-yearly Cervical Screening Test (CST) replaced the 2-yearly Pap test in Australia.

For most women aged 25 to 74, your first CST is due two years after your last Pap test. After that, you will only need to have the test every five years if your result is normal.

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Source: Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation, Australian Government Cancer Australia, National Cervical Screening Program and Understanding HPV

Note: This information is of a general nature only and should not be substituted for medical advice. It does not replace consultations with qualified healthcare professionals to meet your individual medical needs.