Cancer by the Numbers: Cervical Cancer

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cervical cancerby Jacki Donaldson, The Cancer Blog

Cervical cancer was once the most common cancer in women. But between 1955 and 1992, the number of cervical cancer deaths dropped by 74 percent -- thanks to increased use of the Pap test, a screening tool that can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops and can also detect cancer in its most curable stage. The Pap test is still widely used. And the cervical cancer death rate continues to drop four percent every year.

In 2006, about 9,700 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. About 3,700 women will die from the disease. Non-invasive cervical cancer is believed to be four times more common than the invasive form of the disease. Nearly all of these cases can be cured.

Cervical cancer typically occurs in women between the ages of 35 and 55 and rarely in women under the age of 20. It affects mostly Hispanic women, and African-American women develop the disease 50 percent more often than non-Hispanic white women. Women most as risk for cervical cancer are smokers, those with HIV or chlamydia infections, those with diets low in fruit and vegetable consumption, those who between 1940 and 1971 took the hormonal drug DES, and those who have taken oral contraceptives for extended periods of time. Women who have had multiple pregnancies, have a family history of the disease, and have a low socio-economic status are also at risk. Those most at risk, however, are women with human papilloma virus.

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is the most common risk factor for cervical cancer, and some experts believe a woman must have HPV to contract cervical cancer. There are 100 different types of HPV, 13 of which are likely to cause cervical cancer through sexual contact. There are usually no symptoms of HPV, but possible signs of cervical cancer can include vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, pelvic pain, and pain during sexual intercourse.

There are two ways to stop cervical cancer. First, women can protect themselves against HPV. Protection comes in the form of delaying sexual activity, limiting the amount of sexual partners and their partners, using condoms (thought to be 70 percent effective) and receiving the cervical cancer vaccine, recommended for use in females ages 11-26. The vaccine is most effective for women who have never been sexually active. Second, women can receive regular Pap tests in order to catch pre-cancers. Pap tests are recommended for women three years after their first sexual encounter and before the age of 21 -- and then every year after that.

An abnormal Pap test typically prompts a colposcopy -- a technique that uses a scope to examine the cervix. Diagnosis usually stems from a combination of other scoping methods, pelvic exams, imaging tests, and biopsies used to confirm the presence of cancer and to stage the disease. Stages range from 0-4.

For non-invasive cervical cancer, surgery -- ranging from removal of the cancerous tissue to hysterectomy -- may be the only treatment necessary. For invasive forms of the cancer, surgery is often followed by radiation and chemotherapy. Women interested in preserving their fertility should discuss options with their physicians.

The state of cervical cancer has come a long way over the years. And this year, two critical developments emerged. In June 2006, the FDA approved the first drug for late-stage cervical cancer. The drug, Hycamtin, is recommended for use in combination with chemotherapy. Also is June, the cervical cancer vaccine, Gardasil, was released. Both developments are monumental -- and both will undoubtedly help decrease the already-dropping cervical cancer death rate.

For more information about cervical cancer, visit the following sites:

American Cancer Society
Mayo Clinic
Medline Plus
National Women's Health Information Center

source - The Cancer Blog 

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