Facts about Cervical Cancer
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About 80% of women will get at least one kind of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in their lifetime. And some forms of HPV, if left untreated, can turn into cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer death for women in the United States, but in the last 40 years, the number of diagnosed cases has dropped drastically . This is because many more women are taking Pap tests as part of their routine health checks, and any abnormal cervical cells are usually found and removed before they become cancer.
Cancer is generally caused by an abnormality in the cell differentiation process. To understand it better, it is necessary to consider that in all organs, there are very complex mechanisms that limit the production of cells. And these mechanisms are present from the time an embryo is forming. For example, when we get scraped, the affected tissues will usually regenerate until the skin is back to normal, but they will never grow more skin than they should.
However, there are times when this ability to regulate cell production is lost, and the cells begin to reproduce more than necessary, forming a tumor, which can then develop into cancer.
Abnormal cell formation is divided into the following categories:
- Dysplasia or pre-cancerous. Specialists call it cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, and it is currently classified as low or high grade. It only affects the membrane that covers the cervix (epithelium).
- Cancerous. These are cell formations that have advanced growth and have reached the blood or lymphatic vessels. From there, the abnormal cell growth (cancer) can travel to other organs (metastasize) and put the patient's life at risk.
Other than preventative care (i.e., a regular Pap test), one of the greatest advantages that medicine has to face this disease is that its evolution is very slow (10 years or more) and can be detected in its early stages. Non-cancerous or pre-cancerous lesions generally have a good prognosis.
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Women of reproductive age should see a doctor or specialist to perform a Pap smear or Pap test. A positive result on this test does not necessarily mean that a tumor is present, but it does indicate that it is necessary to undergo more precise tests because there is a chance of having HPV or a precursor lesion (which could give rise to cancer).
The positive diagnosis in the vaginal cytology should be verified by means of a colposcopy, which consists of analyzing the cervix with a special instrument that amplifies the images (colposcope) and facilitates the observation of lesions.
If abnormalities are found, a new tissue sample (biopsy) must be taken to analyze its nature and the stage of evolution (histopathological examination). Only then can one begin treatment, which basically consists of removing the affected tissues.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 14,000 women were diagnosed with invasive cervical cancer, and about 4,000 died from it, in 2020 . Women should begin getting regular Pap tests at the age of 21. Cervical cancer is most commonly diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. The more one advances in age, the higher the chance of developing it. In the United States, Hispanic women are most likely to develop cervical cancer, followed by “African-Americans, American Indians and Alaskan natives, and whites. Asians and Pacific Islanders have the lowest risk of cervical cancer in this country.”
As with most cancers, the earlier it is detected, the better the prognosis. Continue to celebrate your health by making regular visits to your doctor or gynecologist!