Cervical Cancer and HPV--Doctors Encourage Immediate Testing

Cervical cancer is more common today than ever before. It is a malignant tumor that forms on the cervix, toward the bottom of the uterus. Human papilloma virus, the most common sexually transmitted virus, is responsible for the growing number of cervical cancer cases in recent years. Doctors are more diligent than ever in the battle to catch cervical cancer in early stages and prevent as many cases as possible with routine PAP smears and the HPV vaccine.

HPV itself is not a deadly virus. In fact, 75 percent of women contract the virus in their lives are free of the virus within about two years without any treatment at all. However, in about 10 percent of HPV cases, the virus lingers, causing lesions and cells which lead to cervical cancer. In these cases, the cancer usually is fatal.

"Women shouldn't die from cervical cancer," says Dr. Daniel F. I. Kurtycz in an article for the Wisconsin State Journal. However, about 4,300 women each year do die. While doctors reassure patients diagnosed with HPV that it is nothing of great concern, they do strongly urge women, now more than ever, to get their annual exams to cut their chances of developing cervical cancer.

Like many diseases, cervical cancer may lie dormant for long periods of time before announcing its presence. Doctors encourage women to beware of anything out of the ordinary with their bodies, particularly below the waist. A few symptoms of which women should be acutely aware are:
  • Any spotting or bleeding that occurs in between periods, or periods that last longer or are notably heavier than normal
  • Bleeding after a woman has passed through menopause
  • Heavy discharge
  • Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
  • Pain during sexual interaction or intercourse
With regular exams and early detection, a cervical cancer patient usually makes a full recovery. As with other types of cancer, a team pf doctors will oversee the patient's treatment plan and discuss the best course of action with the patient and her family. There are many options available to treat cervical cancer in its early stages.
  • Surgery, such as conization (similar to the cone biopsy), a hysterectomy, and radical trachelectomy
  • Radiation treatment. For cervical cancer, doctors typically favor the external-beam radiation therapy as opposed to the internal radiation given with implants. The doctors schedule the number of radiation appointments before the first treatment begins.
  • Chemotherapy, which is either administered through an I.V or with pills. For cervical cancer, doctors prefer the intravenous method to reach the cancer cells more efficiently. Chemotherapy is usually given in combination with radiation treatment. The physician either prescribes one chemotherapy drug at a time, or a series of them together, as the treatment plan dictates.
The doctor informs each cervical cancer patient of the side effects of each option and allows her to make an informed decision where the benefits outweigh the risks as much as possible. The doctor closely monitors for several months following her treatment to make sure that the cervical cancer has not returned and did not spread. Physicians also manage any side effects, which range anywhere from fatigue and skin irritation to vaginal damage and early menopause, during the recovery period.

Preventative measures, such as safe sex, abstinence and the various HPV vaccines help reduce the cases of cervical cancer physicians diagnose each year. However, doctors remind their patients that nothing replaces the routine check-ups.

[Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images]