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Myths about Cervical Cancer

02-01-2016

About 12,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year and 4,000 die from it annually. With early detection, however, the survival rate for cervical cancer is 91 percent, and thanks to all the available health screenings and vaccines, cervical cancer is highly detectable, treatable, and preventable. Bozeman Health is separating fact from fiction with this myth-buster about cervical cancer.

Myth: Cervical cancer is not preventable

Cervical cancer is one of the more preventable types of cancer. Providers can treat pre-cancer, essentially preventing cervical cancer before it starts. The most effective screening is a pap smear that detects pre-cancerous cells. Another screening is the HPV (human papillomavirus) test, which identifies strains of the virus that put women at higher risk for cervical cancer. Providers can catch 90 percent of cervical cancer cases through pap smears and HPV tests.

There are two types of HPV vaccine for females between ages 11 and 26 which protect against high risk strains known to cause cervical cancer. Women 26 and older can have the vaccine, but it won’t be effective if they already have been exposed to these strains.

Myth: If you contract HPV, you will get cervical cancer

Not all strains of HPV are linked to cervical cancer. More than 100 related viruses make up the most common sexually transmitted infections in the U.S. About 80 percent of sexually active people contract HPV at some point but most will never know they had it because the immune system fends off 70 to 90 percent of infections before any symptoms occur.

Myth: HPV is treatable

There is no treatment for HPV. However, the immune system typically resolves most genital HPV infections within two years. Health care providers cannot treat HPV itself, but they can catch and treat pre-cancerous cells caused by HPV.

Myth: Condoms prevent HPV

Condoms provide a limited amount of protection against HPV, but since HPV is transmitted through sexual contact, not just intercourse, HPV still may be transmitted. An HPV study at the University of Washington found that condoms may prevent the transmission of HPV by up to 70 percent, leaving 30 percent of condom users at risk.

Myth: A pap test is the same as a pelvic exam

A pelvic exam is a physical exam of the pelvis, vagina and pelvic floor. A well-woman visit may include a pap test, which is a screening for cervical cancer, along with a pelvic exam, breast exam and physical. Frequency of pap testing depends on age, previous test results and when a woman becomes sexually active. Women should have a well-woman exam every year even if they do not need a pap smear.

Myth: Cervical cancer typically shows immediate symptoms

Early pre-cancers and cervical cancers usually don’t produce noticeable symptoms. By the time cervical cancer reaches an advanced stage, symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, pain during sex, pelvic pain, leg or back pain, a single swollen leg, weight loss or loss of appetite and fatigue. Women experiencing these symptoms should talk with their provider; they may be caused by something other than cervical cancer.

Myth: If you’ve had a hysterectomy, you can’t get cervical cancer

Women who have had a partial hysterectomy should continue getting screened for cervical cancer. However, if they have had a total hysterectomy, during which their cervix and uterus were removed, they should no longer have pap smears or HPV tests.

Categories: Deaconess