Survivor since 1974…
1974, the dark ages… We called cancer the “C” word because treatment was no guarantee for a remission, and the chemicals used to battle the disease were harsh and toxic. Having this disease was a very scary and torturous ride through relatively uncharted waters. We were afraid to say the actual word. Then, as now, the primary defense was early detection. Living in Connecticut at the time, I fortunately had a very vigilant and caring doctor, which now, looking back, probably saved my life. I had no symptoms… no excessive bleeding, pain or discharge. I was also young… in my late twenties, with a perfect health record. What I did have was a pelvic exam every year from my general practitioner. He became concerned as he was examining me that year, and quietly told me he had found some spots… three spots, on my cervix… SEMI-PANIC… He referred me to an OB-GYN for a biopsy… Maybe they were just benign squamous cells? My biopsy was excruciating. It felt like the doctor was using a paper punch… it was also positive… now MAJOR PANIC… At the time I was feeling very alone and didn’t know who to turn to. I had never known anyone who had cancer, but as is so often the case, loving friends and a very sensitive, caring doctor were at my side. My doctor sat with me for so long, giving me the time to absorb the situation and ask my naive questions… Because the cancer was still in the very early stages, and because it is a rather slow developing cancer, we opted for Cryosurgery… a freezing procedure done over a number of return visits… 4 to be exact… As I lay on the operating table awaiting the first treatment, I found myself having trouble breathing… I realized I was in a state of profound fear and in trepidation… My life was no longer within my bounds… I had lost control… My physician came to my rescue once again… he asked me if I cared to watch… Oh yes! He gave me a local anesthetic and explained every move, while his nurse held a mirror so I could see my cervix and the spots. I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at, but I knew it was my body and that the tide had turned… we were now the aggressors, and cancer was the target. The procedure was painless, the side effects nothing more than a nuisance… as the frozen tissue thawed, there was a small gush of moisture… best experienced at home rather than a public forum, as I rather humorously found out one day while shopping after the second proceedure… At my subsequent 3 treatments, I no longer needed that mirror… I knew what was needed and that it was being done. That was 35 years ago… I remain a healthy and active woman. A few years after my treatments, the Endometriosis which had plagued me for several years became so severe that I was forced to have a partial hysterectomy… Is there a link between Endometriosis and Cervical cancer??? Another issue which I have had conflicting answers to is this… do I get a Pap test now that I have had a hysterectomy???
There are many generalizations about the HPV link to Cervical cancers, but they are just that… there are also many factors aside from the typical HPV infections (which account for the majority of Cervical cancer diagnosis) which can happen to you… the answer is simple… a yearly pelvic exam… we women are complicated, and so are our reproductive organs! It is such a simple solution. The following is an excerpt from the National Cervical Cancer/HPV Coalition website… If you are interested in finding out more, or touching base with the community which is dedicated to the understanding of, treatment for and support during and after Cervical cancer, please visit them at http://www.nccc-online.org/
Cervical cancer affects approximately 10,000 women in the United States each year. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. Deaths from cervical cancer in the United States continue to decline by approximately 2 percent a year. This decline is primarily due to the widespread use of the Pap test to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years.
Cancer of the cervix tends to occur during midlife. Half of the women diagnosed with the disease are between 35 and 55 years of age. It rarely affects women under age 20, and approximately 20 percent of diagnoses are made in women older than 65. For this reason, it is important for women to continue cervical cancer screening until at least the age of 70.
Types of Cervical Cancer
The cervix is the narrow opening into the uterus from the vagina. The normal “ectocervix” (the portion of the uterus extending into the vagina) is a healthy pink color and is covered with flat, thin cells called squamous cells. The “endocervix” or cervical canal is made up of another kind of cell called columnar cells. The area where these cells meet is called the “transformation zone” (T-zone) and is the most likely location for abnormal or precancerous cells to develop.
Most cervical cancers (80 to 90 percent) are squamous cell cancers. Adenocarcinoma is the second most common type of cervical cancer, accounting for the remaining 10 to 20 percent of cases. Adenocarcinoma develops from the glands that produce mucus in the endocervix. While less common than squamous cell carcinoma, the incidence of adenocarcinoma is on the rise, particularly in younger women.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is found in about 99% of cervical cancers. There are over 100 different types of HPV, the majority of which are considered Low Risk and do not cause cervical cancer. High Risk HPV types may cause cervical cell abnormalities or cancer. More than 70 percent of cervical cancer cases can be attributed to two types of the virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18, often referred to as High Risk HPV Types.
HPV is estimated to be the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. In fact, by age 50 approximately 80% of women have been infected with some type of HPV. The majority of women infected with the HPV virus do NOT develop cervical cancer. For most women the HPV infection is transient and 90% of infections resolve spontaneously within 2 years. A small proportion of women do not clear the HPV virus and are considered to have persistent infection. A woman with a persistent HPV infection is at greater risk of developing cervical cell abnormalities and cancer than a woman whose infection resolves on its own.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Precancerous cervical cell changes and early cancers of the cervix generally do not cause symptoms. Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, or vaginal discharge may be symptoms of more advanced disease.
* Notify your healthcare provider if you experience: Abnormal bleeding, such as,
* Bleeding between regular menstrual periods
* Bleeding after sexual intercourse
* Bleeding after douching
* Bleeding after a pelvic exam
* Pelvic pain not related to your menstrual cycle
* Heavy or unusual discharge that may be watery, thick, and possibly have a foul odor
* Increased urinary frequency
* Pain during urination
Detecting Cervical Cancer
The best way to determine if precancerous or cancerous cells are present is with a Pap test. The Pap test can determine if cell changes have taken place that may indicate precancerous or cancerous development. (See Pap Testing for more information). In addition to a Pap test, your doctor may recommend an HPV test. The HPV test does not indicate the presence of precancerous or cancerous cells. It determines whether or not a woman has an HPV infection with any of the 13 high-risk HPV types. The test cannot tell you whether your infection is new or if it is persistent. This information will assist you and your doctor to determine appropriate follow-up and intervals for cervical cancer screening. (See HPV Testing for more information).
Protecting Yourself from Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers today. If caught early, the 5-year survival rate is almost 100%. Regular Pap testing is the best method to protect against invasive cervical cancer. It is most important to remember that cervical cancer takes many years to develop. Regular Pap tests will help detect any precancerous or abnormal cells early enough so that cervical cancer can be prevented.
In addition to routine Pap testing, you may want to consider minimizing risk factors that could contribute to cervical cancer. Those factors include:
* Multiple sexual partners
* Multiple full-term pregnancies
* Sexual intercourse at an early age
* Chlamydia infection
* Cigarette smoking
* Use of oral contraceptives
* Weakened immune system or HIV infection