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Understanding Cervical Cancer

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer, like breast cancer, affects many women all over the world today. It occurs in the cervix, which is the narrow opening connecting the vagina and the uterus. But unlike breast cancer, cervical cancer may be prevented through immunisation and treated successfully if it is detected at an early stage.

Human Papilloma Virus

The culprit behind many cervical cancer cases is a virus known as HPV which stands for human papilloma virus. This sexually transmitted virus, which affects women mainly between 20 and 24 years of age, comes in several types, and four have been identified as the usual causes of abnormal cell growth in the cervix. In 98% of cases HVP will clear up by itself, and the transition to cancerous cells can take 10 years (Source: www.health.gov.au).

Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer

When the cervix develops cancerous cells, its symptoms are not readily observed by the patient. Oftentimes, it is only when the malignant cells are at an advanced stage that the following signs are experienced:

  • abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding
  • bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • painful sexual intercourse
  • heavy, unusual and foul-smelling vaginal discharge
  • painful and frequent urination

How to detect cervical cancer

Pap Smear

Women who are sexually active are advised to undergo a papanicolaou or Pap smear to detect any abnormal growth in the cervix at least once a year. This is because cancer cells take some time, usually years, to develop. A woman may not show any abnormal cells this year but may eventually develop cancer cells after a year or so. A GP can perform a Pap smear during an internal examination of the vagina, and taking a sample of cells from inside the cervix. Although uncomfortable, the procedure is fast and relatively painless.

HPV Screening

Many medical practitioners may recommend that a woman submit herself to an HPV screening to determine the presence of the virus in her cervix. This is especially important for those who are planning to take the HPV immunisation shots, as women who have been infected by HPV may not be given the HPV vaccine.

Colposcopy

A woman who has tested positive for HPV may be advised by her doctor to undergo a procedure called colposcopy. During a colposcopy, the woman's cervix is examined under greater magnification and a larger sample of abnormal cells is usually taken and tested for cancer.

How to prevent cervical cancer

  1. Get detected early. Visit your GP for Pap smears and pelvic examinations regularly - once a year is recommended. Abnormal cell growth that is detected at an early stage may be treated before they develop into malignant cancer cells. As with most illnesses, early detection is important.  According the the Cancer Council, regular pap smears can reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in Australia by 90%.
  2. Practise safe sex. Since the HPV virus is transmitted during sexual contact, you lower your chances of getting infected by using condoms every time you engage in sex when not in a monogamous relationship.
  3. Boost your immune system. A virus can easily attack healthy cells in your body if you have a weak immune system. Take your multivitamins religiously; maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your immune system in good working condition.
  4. Quit smoking. Women who smoke are at a higher risk of developing cancers, cervical cancer included.
  5. Vaccination.  There is a vaccine available that works on the premise that HPV contributes to the occurrence of cervical cancer. However, to go on the vaccination program a pap smear must first take place. So women need to decide that if there is no sign of HPV, are the side effects of the vaccine worth the 'insurance'.  According to the vaccine manufacturer, Merck, in the United States only 7% of the population is estimated to have HPV, and of this 7% 'most' would find HPV to go away of its own accord.  Further, it lists side effects to include pain, swelling, erythema, fever, nausea, pruritus and dizziness.  The Cancer Council showed that some test cases experienced slight fever, redness or irritiation on their skin at the site of vaccination.

Discuss the options available to you for boosting your immune system with your natural health practitioner.

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