Health Female Adda
1 year ago
Is Cervical Cancer Really the 'Best One to Get'?

A cancer diagnosis is never on anyone’s wish list, though you may have heard a rumor at some point in time that cervical cancer is the "best" kind to get. For the most part, that's actually true.

So what exactly does that mean? A number of factors are involved, including the way the disease progresses, the availability of tests that can detect it early, and the effectiveness of fertility-preserving treatments. All together, these result in a 93 percent survival rate if it’s diagnosed at the earliest stage, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and we definitely don’t want to sugarcoat the disease—it strikes approximately 12,900 women in the U.S. per year and kills about 4,100, according to the ACS—but it’s a good time to break down why this gynecologic cancer may not be as terrifying as you think.

Cervical Cancer Develops Slowly
Compared to other forms of cancer, cervical cancer tends to be slow growing, says Teresa Diaz-Montes, M.D., gynecological oncologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. How slow? After a cancer-causing type of HPV invades the cells along the cervix (HPV is behind 99 percent of cervical cancer cases, says Diaz-Montes), it might be years before low-grade, then high-grade precancerous lesions form, if ever. Even after high-grade lesions are present, “it can take 10 years for cancer to develop,” she adds.

Of course, lots of factors play into how long it takes any abnormal cell growth to become malignant—such as how strong your immune system is. A healthy immune system, powered by eating right and not smoking, helps your body clear the virus and reverse any cell damage already done. Abnormal cell growth can also be affected by any underlying health conditions that might allow the cancer to step on the gas. But in general, cervical cancer has a long lag time.

Routine Tests Tip You Off Early
Ovarian cancer and uterine cancer are more lethal than cervical cancer in part because no accurate test is available that can detect either one early on, when cancer is more curable. But the routine Pap test you undergo during your gyno checkup is a lifesaver. This quick-screening swab alerts your doctor to any abnormal cell changes on your cervix, says Elizabeth Jewell, M.D., gynecologic oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The HPV screening you either get concurrently with your Pap or as a follow-up to an abnormal Pap (when it’s done depends on your age) tells your doctor if you have a cancer-causing strain of the virus, says Jewell.

The most recent testing guidelines recommend that women between ages 21 and 29 get a Pap every three years. If it comes back abnormal, an HPV test should follow. Women over 30, however, should get a Pap and HPV test every five years. (HPV can be more of a threat to a post-30 woman because it takes longer for her body to fight the virus off, so doctors don’t want to waste any time knowing about it.) The results of these tests will determine how your gyno proceeds. She may opt to just retest you in a few months, or she might do a biopsy to get a closer look at the cell changes and find out how far along they are and if she should do an in-office procedure to remove them.

Treatment Options Are Effective
Let's say that your doctor calls you in and breaks the news that you do have cervical cancer. If you’ve been going for regular Pap and HPV tests (and just to be clear, you are doing that, right?), odds are the disease has been caught in a highly curable stage. “When we see advanced cervical cancer, it’s usually because a woman has not had regular Pap tests,” which would have caught precancerous cell changes, says Diaz-Montes.

While terrifying words like chemo, radiation, and hysterectomy might be flashing through your brain, these aren’t typically used to treat early stage cervical cancer. Depending on where the abnormal cells are along your cervix, your doctor might do a procedure called a LEEP or conization, says Jewell, in which the abnormal cells are removed via an electric current or a scalpel. Surgery that removes most of the cervix yet leaves the uterus intact is also an option. “If you have early stage cervical cancer, you don’t necessarily have to undergo a hysterectomy, so your fertility is preserved,” says Diaz-Montes.

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