With no concrete warning signs or symptoms, cervical cancer can strike. But that doesn’t mean a woman can’t fight back. “Cervical cancer has actually been decreasing,” says Dr. James Orr, a gynecologic oncologist on the Lee Memorial Health System medical staff. That’s due in part to regular screenings. “It’s important I think from a woman’s standpoint to have routine screening and I think from a screening standpoint, that we really begin at age 21.”
Since the warning signs are somewhat cloudy, all women should be clear about their risk. If you smoke, started having sex before the age of 18, have had many sexual partners, or if you have contracted or been exposed to HPV, you could be at an increased risk.
“We clearly know that this disease is related to the human papillomavirus,” explains Dr. Orr. “If you look at the incidents or presence of papillomavirus, its not 5 or 10 %; its 40, 60, 80% of woman have been exposed to the papillomavirus. We don’t know why some women who have papillomavirus develop cervix cancer and some don’t.”
As for testing and screening for cervical cancer, the Pap test remains the best tool. “We now have a different smear technique which is the wet prep, where we’ve got a cleaner smear, better smear; a smear that’s more easily interpreted.”
If a Pap test has revealed an abnormality, the doctor may perform a coloposcopy, which is a thorough exam of the cervix. X-rays or other imaging may also be used to investigate the findings further.