Cervical cancer

“The most important thing is to get your Pap smear done. It may be inconvenient, but a Pap smear can be life-saving.” — Merry-Jennifer Markham, M.D.

Signs and symptoms: The primary symptom of cervical cancer is vaginal bleeding. Pain and pelvic pressure are also symptoms but typically don’t occur until later in the disease. “The hope is that most women don’t get to the point where they have symptoms,” said Merry-Jennifer Markham, M.D., medical oncologist and program leader for UF Health’s multidisciplinary gynecologic oncology program. “We can prevent invasive cervical cancer the majority of the time if abnormalities are detected early.”

Screening techniques: The screening of choice for cervical cancer is the Pap smear, which a gynecologist performs during a pelvic exam. During a Pap smear, doctors look for precancerous lesions and often test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer.

Recommendations: All women between the ages of 21 to 65 should have a Pap smear every three years, or more often if there is a history of abnormal Pap results in the past.

Prevention: One of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer is to prevent the human papillomavirus, which is the cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Experts recommend boys and girls between the age of 9 and 26 receive the HPV vaccine, which targets the most common cancer-causing strains of the virus, Markham says. In addition, regular Pap smears can detect precancerous lesions and help prevent invasive cervical cancer before it develops.

Treatments: If a woman’s Pap smear reveals precancerous lesions, doctors use techniques such as the LEEP procedure (a procedure using a low-voltage electrictrified wire) to remove abnormal tissue. If invasive or more advanced cervical cancer is detected, women may need to undergo a hysterectomy, or possibly even radiation and/or chemotherapy.

Below we have a cancer-by-cancer breakdown of screening recommendations.


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