Woman speaking with her doctor

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

It’s time to talk about cervical cancer. The disease is preventable, treatable, and curable, but only if you catch it early before it catches you. Cervical cancer starts when the healthy cells on the cervix, which is the lowest part of the uterus, begin to change to pre-cancerous cells. However, it doesn’t end there because cervical cancer can slowly spread over time. While not all pre-cancerous cells will turn into cervical cancer, finding these cells early and treating them before they can change is the key to preventing this kind of cancer. At the beginning of each year, cervical cancer becomes the talk of the times as January is dedicated to bringing awareness to the disease. Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023 is the perfect time to start talking about cervical cancer. Let your New Year’s resolution be learning about cervical cancer and its prevalence, the different types of the disease, and the main cervical cancer symptoms. Then, discover how to treat it as well as defeat it with regular screenings and vaccination and help other women kick off a happy and healthy new year.

Cervical cancer cases

Cervical cancer used to be the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the United States. Not anymore, thanks to an increase in cervical cancer screening and HPV vaccines that have dramatically decreased its impact. However, according to the National Cancer Institute, there were still over 14,000 women in the nation who received a cervical cancer diagnosis last year, with nearly 4,300 cases proving fatal. This form of cancer is most diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44. But that doesn’t mean that older women can avoid a regular cervical cancer screening because the average age of diagnosis is 50 years old. 20% of cases are found in women over the age of 65. Yet, these cancers only rarely occur in women who have been having regular screenings for cervical cancer since before age 65. Today, cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed much more often than invasive cervical cancer due to the rise in cervical cancer screenings, which is good news because early detection makes it easier to treat and cure.

One cause, two kinds

The one thing causing almost all cases of cervical cancer is HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease. There’s more than one type of cervical cancer. Each kind is named after the cell it starts in. The two main forms are:

  1. Squamous cell carcinomas – Making up nearly 90% of cases, these cancers develop in the cells on the outer part of the cervix.
  2. Adenocarcinomas – As the less common form of this cancer, these cases begin in the cells on the inner part of the cervix, which forms a canal that connects the uterus to the vagina.

Exposing cervical cancer symptoms

Just like the new year always seems to sneak up on you, so will cervical cancer. That’s because there are no cervical cancer symptoms in its earliest stages, which makes the disease hard to detect. Symptoms typically only begin after the cancer has grown and spread into the surrounding tissue. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your SignatureMD-affiliated doctor immediately. Some of the first symptoms you may notice can include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding following sex, after menopause, or between periods
  • Having menstrual periods that are longer or heavier than usual
  • Pain around the pelvis
  • Discomfort during sex

Once the disease has reached a more advanced stage, the following signs can appear:

  • Pain or difficulty urinating and having bowel movements
  • Blood in the urine
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue

Treating cervical cancer

The first step in treating cervical cancer is testing at the first sign of symptoms. That’s because most people won’t know if they have the disease until a doctor performs a series of tests and biopsies. If you’re diagnosed, you’ll have additional tests to determine the stage of the cancer. At this point, your doctor will discuss your cervical cancer treatment options based on your age, its stage, your health, and whether you want to have children in the future. The most common cervical cancer treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Since a cervical cancer diagnosis can be incredibly stressful, many people are encouraged to join support groups during cervical cancer treatment.

Cervical cancer is preventable

Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023 is the perfect time to share the good news that nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be prevented by following three simple steps:

  1. Consider getting an HPV vaccine if you’re eligible.
  2. Have regular cervical cancer screenings to test for the disease.
  3. Get the appropriate follow-up treatment if needed.

That’s all it takes to save your life and the lives of women everywhere.

During Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2023, start talking about cervical cancer and encouraging other women to consider getting the life-saving HPV vaccine, routine screenings, and the recommended treatment they need in order to kick off a healthy new year.