Cervical cancer, a cancer that affects many women. Fortunately, more and more women undergo regular screening and as a result the number of deaths has decreased significantly. However, each year a lot of women still die, suggesting that there is still more that can be done to combat the cancer. It is important to emphasize the importance of regular screening, a task for all doctors.
Cervical cancer forms in the tissue of the cervix. The most important risk factor for developing cervix cancer is an infection with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than 100 types of HPV and around 40 of these can be sexually transmitted. Of these, approximately 15 are thought to be cancer-causing viruses, with two types, HPV-16 and HPV-18 being responsible for around 70% of cervical cancer cases globally. Other risk factors are a positive family history, smoking and being immunocompromised.
The symptoms of cervical cancer develop in a later stage. It is not until the cancer becomes invasive that symptoms occur. The symptoms are abnormal bleeding after sexual intercourse, during menopause or between periods, leg swelling, weight loss, abdominal pain, etc. Because the absence or subtleness of early symptoms of the disease, some women may not realize they have it, and some may even ignore the signs or confuse them with symptoms of other conditions. This highlights the importance of regular screening for the disease. There are two main screening methods. The first is liquid-based cytology, with this method the cervix is scrapped with a small brush to collect cells. These cells are then analysed for cell abnormalities. The other screening method is the Papanicolaou (Pap) test, also called the smear test. The Pap-test includes scraping the outer opening of the cervix for cells and analysing these under a microscope for any abnormalities. It is also possible to perform an HPV test.
When these screening methods are performed regularly, it is possible to largely prevent cervix cancer. Therefore, is it important that doctors inform their patients about this screening program and emphasize that cervical cancer is largely preventable and that regular screening is the key to do this.
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