Act to prevent cervical cancer

Act to prevent cervical cancer

Doctors found invasive cervical cancer in an estimated 12,700 American women in 2011, and the disease claimed about 4,300 lives. Yet when it is caught early enough, cervical cancer is almost always treatable.

“Cancer of the cervix usually occurs in women ages 20 to 50, although women are at risk throughout their lives,” explains Steven Waggoner, MD, Division Chief of Gynecological Oncology at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. “In fact, 20 percent of cases affect women older than age 65.”

According to Dr. Waggoner, learning how this deadly cancer can be prevented, diagnosed and treated can help you protect yourself.

Q: What causes cervical cancer?

A: Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) causes 99 percent of cervical cancer cases. This sexually transmitted virus is so common that by age 50, four out of five American women have contracted one or more HPV infections.

Thankfully, most of the more than 100 kinds of HPV do not cause cancer. About 90 percent of the infections disappear on their own within a year or two.

Dr. Waggoner adds, “However, women with HPV infections that do not go away face a high risk of developing cancer of the cervix.”

Q: Are there circumstances that can increase my risk?

A: According to Dr. Waggoner, these risk factors increase the odds of HPV infection, which in turn can lead to cancer:

  • Having many sexual partners
  • Having sex with a man who has had many sexual partners
  • Having sex before age 18
  • Having a family history of cervical cancer
  • Having a personal history of chlamydia or cervical, vaginal or vulvar cancer
  • Being a smoker
  • Having an impaired immune system
  • Having a mother who took the prescription drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant

Q: What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

A: “Women with early-stage cervical cancer usually do not have symptoms,” says Dr. Waggoner. “If they do, they may experience bleeding between periods or after intercourse or menopause, a persistent vaginal discharge or long, heavy periods. Women with advanced cancer may have pelvic or back pain, fatigue and heavy vaginal bleeding.”

Q: How is cervical cancer detected and treated?

A: A Pap test can find this disease, which is confirmed by follow-up biopsies.

“Caught early, in its precancerous stage, the disease can often be treated successfully before the cells become cancerous,” explains Dr. Waggoner.

Several factors help determine how best to treat cervical cancer, including the cancer’s stage, size and shape. The woman’s health and age also play a part. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, alone or in combination, are used to treat cervical cancer.

Steven Waggoner

Division Chief, Gynecological Oncology, UH Seidman Cancer Center
Associate Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Request an Appointment

Request an appointment with a specialist at University Hospitals.
216-UH4-KIDS 216-844-5437 or use our Online Request Form

Need to Refer a Patient?

Click here for Patient Referrals

Hooray for Helmets

Register to win a family four-pack of bike helmets.

Browse Services A-Z

Maps and Directions

Click here for directions