Cervical cancer invades over 14,000 women’s lives in the United States every year. Thankfully, deaths from this disease have declined significantly thanks to improved screening and early detection. However, its continued impact shows we still have work to do in spreading awareness and empowering at-risk women.
When found in early stages, cervical cancer proves highly treatable with over 90% survival. But left undetected, it can silently progress and metastasize. Catching abnormalities early and taking preventative action have greatly reduced healthcare costs and long-term health issues linked to this disease.
What Is Cervical Cancer and How does It Develop?
Cervical cancer forms in the cervix, the lower portion of the uterus connecting to the top of the vagina. The two most prevalent cervical cancer types include squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma originates in the flat, thin cells lining the outer cervical surface. This cervical cancer type makes up 80-90% of cases.
Adenocarcinoma develops in the cervical gland cells of the endocervix, the glandular tissue layer underneath the surface lining. While less common, incidence of cervical adenocarcinoma has risen over recent decades.
What Factors Can Increase Cervical Cancer Risk?
Several influences can make certain women more vulnerable to cervical cancer, including:
- HPV Infection – The #1 risk factor, human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role in over 90% of cervical cancer cases. Around 80 million Americans currently live with an active HPV infection, with 14 million new cases annually. Over 100 HPV strains exist, but types 16 and 18 cause 70% of cervical cancers.
- Number of Sexual Partners – Having multiple sexual partners throughout one’s life heightens cervical cancer risk. The more partners, the more exposure opportunities for high-risk HPV strains driving this disease.
- Early Sexual Activity – Becoming sexually active at an early age also raises susceptibility. Teen bodies still developing prove especially vulnerable to initial HPV introduction.
- Other STIs – Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV can increase odds of cervical cancer. These diseases may compromise the immune response needed to suppress cancer-causing HPV.
- Immune Deficiency – Women with autoimmune disorders or medication-induced immunosuppression face higher cervical cancer rates from decreased ability to fight HPV infection. Those positive for HIV also show a five-times greater risk.
- Family History – If your mother or sister has battled cervical cancer, your genetic likelihood increases somewhat as well.
- Smoking – Firsthand smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke introduces cancer-promoting chemicals into cervical tissues already vulnerable from HPV exposure.
- DES Exposure – Women whose mothers took the medication DES during pregnancy have an elevated cervical cancer risk due to changes in gland cell development.
Catching Cervical Cancer Early
During initial stages, cervical cancer rarely manifests obvious symptoms. Without overt warnings, affected women often remain unaware of quietly progressing disease. This asymptomatic advancement highlights why regular pelvic exams and Pap tests prove so important.
Within current guidelines, women ages 21-65 should receive regular cervical cancer screening every 3 to 5 years. Some women, such as those over age 65 or with compromised immune status, may require more frequent testing. Always follow your doctor’s personalized recommendations.
During a quick and painless Pap smear, your practitioner collects cell samples from your outer cervix. A lab then examines these cervical cells for any precancerous changes or early cancer signs.
When found early through routine screening, cervical cancer proves highly treatable with 5-year survival rates exceeding 90%! But once this disease spreads regionally or distantly, prognosis rapidly declines.
That’s why identifying precancerous abnormalities early allows doctors to remove or destroy these tissue areas before actual cancer forms. Even if cancer does develop, catching it during Stage I means less invasive treatment with preferred outcomes. Clearly prevention plays a pivotal role in fighting cervical cancer!
Can Lifestyle Changes Influence Cervical Cancer Risk?
While some risk factors like genetics remain fixed, emerging research shows that certain lifestyle measures may help reduce cervical cancer susceptibility.
- Get Vaccinated – The HPV vaccine protects against strains most responsible for cervical malignancies. Women ages 26 and younger who missed this shot as pre-teens should still get immunized. HPV vaccination already shows a 75% success rate in slashing cervical cancer incidence!
- Use Protection – Condoms limit exposure during sexual activity to high-risk HPV types and other STDs that compromise immunity. While not 100% preventative, using barriers lowers transmission odds.
- Avoid Smoking – First or secondhand smoke introduces carcinogenic chemicals into cervical tissues trying to clear HPV infection. Quitting smoking remains one of the best health moves women make.
- Get Screened – Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests detecting early abnormalities still provide the best protective strategy we currently have. Following expert screening guidelines remains key.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight – A balanced diet and regular exercise support whole body wellness able to better resist HPV, suppress precancers, and beat escalated cancers.
While avoiding every risk factor proves impossible, making informed lifestyle choices empowers women to stand up against cervical cancer.
Recovering After Cervical Cancer Treatment
Once diagnosed, common cervical cancer treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination protocol. Hysterectomy remains the most prevalent initial surgery, often paired with pelvic lymph node removal.
After completing active treatment protocols, many survivors still face lingering effects impacting quality of life. Working with pelvic floor physical therapists brings rehab to optimize function and alleviate post-cancer issues like:
- Bowel and Bladder Incontinence – Surgeries involving reproductive structures often injure nerves directing normal elimination control. Incontinence frequently follows treatment but responds well to conservative retraining.
- Sexual Health Difficulties – Reduced desire, arousal struggles, penetration pain, and difficulty reaching orgasm often stem from scar tissue, dryness, fear, grief, and pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic PTs prove specially trained to address these complex intimacy concerns.
- Pelvic Pain and Muscle Tension – Radiation often leaves muscles and nerves hypersensitive and knots within fascial tissues driving centralized pain. Manual and self-massage techniques combined with relaxation training help gently unwind this guarding response.
- Fatigue – Lingering fatigue commonly follows cancer treatments, but regaining mobility through individualized exercise helps reboot your energy systems. Pacing activity prevents overexertion while progressively building back endurance.
- Vaginal Stenosis – Radiation notoriously narrows the vaginal vault, causing pain and difficulty with intercourse, exams, and dilation. Specialized vaginal stretching regimens within pelvic rehab focus on gently expanding the canal again.
Starting rehab before undergoing surgery frequently improves post-treatment outcomes through building a buffer of pelvic floor strength and endurance. When the structures supporting our core face extensive injury, recovery timeline directly relates to available muscular reserves.
By teaching women how to relax hypertonic muscles, mobilize scar tissue, reactivate deep stabilizers, and increase blood flow to genitourinary tissues, pelvic floor physical therapists facilitate:
- Reduced incontinence
- Increased vaginal flexibility
- Resolved penetration pain
- Restored sensation and arousal
- Confidence embracing intimacy
With expert guidance, most cervical cancer survivors see drastic improvements in lingering side effects, restoring comfort and quality of life after treatment.
The Road Ahead: Ending Cervical Cancer
Thanks to increased HPV vaccination, routine screening, and early intervention we move closer each year to eliminating cervical cancer. Still, we need increased awareness so at-risk women take action before this preventable disease spreads silently.
Pay attention to your body and discuss any abnormal symptoms with your doctor right away. Report pain during intercourse, unusual discharge, pelvic pressure, prolonged or heavy periods. Don’t write things off as normal or tolerable. Voice concerns to get evaluated promptly so cases stay as easy to treat as possible.
Together through education, empowerment, and expert care we can eradicate cervical cancer once and for all!