Women's Health | November 22, 2017 | Author: Naturopath
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers but tragically is the leading cause of death in women worldwide. Current screening involves a pap smear test every two years for women aged between 18-69. Based on new evidence and advancements in technology, the National Cervical Screening Program will change from 1 December 2017 to improve early detection and save more lives. Screening will now be done every five years and change to the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. This new test is recommended for women aged between 25 to 74.
The cervix lies at the base of the uterus and opens into the vagina. It is part of a women’s reproductive tract.
Usually cervical cancer develops slowly, but is some cases it can spread quickly. Cervical cancer is one of the cancers that affects young women.
Cervical cells pass through a series of changes (dysplasia) before they become cancerous. These cases are almost always linked to infection with HPV infection.
Squamous cell cancer—this is the most common type. It begins in the cells that line the surface of the cervix at the top of the vagina.
Adenocarcinoma—this type of cervical cancer is less common. It starts in the glandular cells in the cervical canal.
There are many different types of Human papillomavirus (HPV). Some cause warts that lead to obvious signs of infections while some types are asymptomatic. Most women remain unaware that they have an HPV infection.
HPV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which is spread through genital skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity.
Although HPV is very common, most women who have an HPV infection will not develop cervical cancer. In most cases the virus is naturally cleared from the body within a few years and doesn’t require treatment. Sometimes the virus can persist in the cervix – leading to abnormal cell changes. If they are left undetected and untreated, the risk of developing cervical cancer increases.
HPV has been identified as a necessary factor in the development of pre-invasive and invasive cancers of the lower genital tract, of which cervical cancer is the most prevalent.
The test is done to determine if a high-risk type of HPV is present. It is performed in a similar way to a pap test where a small sample of cells are taken from the cervix.
Your health professional will insert a speculum into your vagina to gently spread apart the vaginal walls allowing for examination. They will then use a small swab to collect several samples from the wall of the cervix.
The samples are then placed into specimen tubes and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Instead of testing for abnormal cell changes in a pap smear, an HPV test checks for genetic material or DNA. A test result is then generally available within 1-2 weeks.
A test result will either come back negative or positive. If your test result comes back positive it doesn’t necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. It may mean that you are infected with one or more strains of HPV that are high-risk which increases your chance of having precancerous cervical cell changes. False-positive test results are also possible which means that the test may have come back positive when you do not have an HPV infection. Your doctor may recommend repeat testing such as colposcopy and cervical biopsy. A colposcopy is a lot like getting a pap smear but it uses a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope to get a good look at your cervix. The type of testing recommended will depend on your medical history and finding from your HPV test.
There are currently two vaccines available in Australia to protect against cervical cancer. They work by preventing infection of two types of HPV, 16 and 18.
These two high-risk types of HPV have been shown to cause 70% of cervical cancer. One of the vaccines also protects against two other types of HPV which cause genital warts.
The vaccine provides best protection if it is given before a person becomes sexually active.
It is recommended that women aged between 25-74 have a HPV test every 5 years. If you are due for a pap smear test before the changes commence then it is recommended you visit your doctor for a pap smear. In two years’ time you will then switch to the HPV test which is performed every five years. Even if you have been vaccinated against HPV, you will still need to undergo HPV testing.
Having a low immune system has been identified as one of the risk factors for developing cervical cancer. This happens because your immune system is unable to fight off the HPV infection itself –leading to changes in cervical cells. Echinacea, astragalus, rosemary and medicinal mushrooms have proven chemopreventative and antiviral properties that can work to prevent or fight off HPV infection and cervical cancer.
Practicing safe sex by using a condom will reduce your risk as well as not smoking and eating a healthy diet.
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