While cervical cancer rates in the United States are declining, a recent study by the University of California Los Angeles Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that late-stages of cervical cancer are on the rise among women in the United States. One possible explanation may be that younger women are not getting their cervical cancer screenings.
“Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the cervix begin to grow out of control. Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). While some patients are able to clear HPV without any issues, the virus can stick around in other patients and cause precancerous and cancerous changes in the cervix over time,” says Dr. Erica Manrriquez, a gynecologic oncologist at The Women’s Center at Dignity Health - Mercy Hospital Southwest. “Any person with a cervix is at risk for cervical cancer. However, it is highly preventable if patients are getting their routine screenings.”
Some of the most common symptoms for cervical cancer are:
- Watery or bloody vaginal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or menopause
- Menstrual periods that are heavier or longer than usual
- Pelvic pain
“Anyone experiencing any of these symptoms should contact their primary care physician or gynecologist for an exam,” explains Dr. Manrriquez. “When caught early, the survival rate for cervical cancer is very high.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends healthy patients with a cervix get Pap tests beginning at age 21 with follow-up screenings every three to five years depending on their personal health history and associated risk factors. Pap and HPV tests are able to detect cell changes that may indicate pre-cancerous growths.
“Younger patients may put off screenings because they think they’re not at risk of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Manrriquez. “Regardless of your age, family history or other risk factors, everyone should prioritize these life-saving screenings.”
Dr. Manrriquez adds there are great preventive actions that can be taken, beginning with the HPV vaccine. “The HPV vaccination series protects people against different types of HPV, which is the leading cause of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. The vaccine is safe, effective, and the best preventive measure against future HPV infections,” she said.
The CDC recommends vaccination against HPV beginning at the ages of 9 through age 26. People between ages 27 through 45 can get the vaccine after discussing with their doctor if they are at risk for HPV infection.
“Cervical cancer is a risk for patients of all ages. The good news is you can substantially reduce your risk by being proactive, and it starts by having a candid conversation with your physician,” said Dr. Manrriquez.
For more information, visit the Women’s Center at Mercy Southwest or dignityhealth.org/bakersfield/womens-center for comprehensive women’s care that meets the various needs during the different stages of your life.