Keep Fighting The War Against Cervical Cancer


An estimated 14,100 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, and about 4,200 women will die from it each year, according to the American Cancer Society. The deaths are a significant decline thanks in large part to advances in screening, prevention and treatment. That is why it is so important to keep up with your regular gynecological exams.

Cervical cancer begins in the lower, narrow end of the uterus. Almost all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV, a sexually transmitted infection.

Nearly everyone will get HPV at some point in their lives. Ninety per cent of HPV infections go away by themselves, and often you don’t even know you had it. But in some cases, the virus can linger and over time cause damage to the cervical cells.

While anyone who is sexually active is at risk for HPV, your risk increases if you become active before the age of 18; have many sexual partners; or have a partner who is considered high risk (with and HPV infection or who has had many sexual partners). HPV vaccination between the ages of 9 and 26 is recommended.

In addition to infection with HPV, other risk factors for cervical cancer include smoking, a weakened immune system, or a chlamydia infection. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are higher than if no one in the family has ever received the diagnosis.

Early-stage cervical cancer typically does not have any symptoms. As the cancer grows, common symptoms can include:

• Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex, bleeding after menopause, and bleeding between periods.

• Unusual vaginal discharge that may contain some blood and occur between periods and after menopause.

• Pain during sex.

• Pain in the pelvic region.

The best way to detect cervical cancer early, when treatment can be most successful, is to have regular screening tests including a Pap test and an HPV test. Screening can also prevent most cervical cancers by identifying pre-cancerous changes in the cervix early and treating them before they progress.

If you are concerned about your risk for cervical cancer, talk with your gynecologist. With regular screening and vaccination against HPV, you can catch the disease in its early stages and reduce your chances of developing it altogether.

For more information or to find a physician affiliated with Penn Medicine Princeton Health, call 888-742-7496 or visit

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