A Young HPV/Cervical Cancer Survivor’s Story
… Lisa Smith (name changed to protect privacy), a young Caymanian who had to face the reality of having HPV and stage one cervical cancer at the age of 16, has a very different message.
“I was really fortunate in having the type of relationship with my mom where I could talk openly with her about things like being sexually active, and having her help me in being responsible about it,” she begins. In fact, it was her mom who took her to the gynecologist from an early age, where she had her first Pap test done and was put on birth control prior to becoming sexually active at the age of 16… read more
What is the cervix?
The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. The opening of the cervix lets menstrual blood out and widens to allow the passage of the fetus through the vagina during childbirth.
Who is at Risk?
A risk factor is anything that increases the chance that you might develop a disease.
Women who are most at risk of getting cervical cancer include those who have genital human papilloma virus (HPV). This outweighs all other risk factors. Please see HPV Immunization Page for more details on HPV.
Other factors that put women at risk of getting cervical cancer include:
- Age > 40
- Intercourse before age 18
- Multiple sex partners
- Unprotected sexual contact, especially at a young age
- Daughters of women who took DES during pregnancy
- Pregnant more than 5 times, starting at an early age
- Deficiency in beta carotene, vitamin C, or folic acid
- Taking immunosuppressant drugs or having HIV infection or AIDS
Signs and Symptoms
Cervical cancer rarely causes symptoms in early stages, so that is why it is so important to go for a regular pap smear. Signs of cervical cancer may include bleeding after intercourse, painful intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, heavy menstrual flow, and watery, foul-smelling discharge
Prevention Cervical cancer can be prevented in most cases by the pap smear test. Cell changes can be detected by this test and treatment prevents the cancer from developing. Early cancers are also detected and treated resulting in 100% cure rates (stage-0).
- Not smoking
- Limiting the number of sexual partners
- Practicing safe sex
- Regular screening
- HPV vaccine for youths aged 11-16
A screening test is given to persons who have no symptoms of a disease or condition. It is looking for pre-cancerous conditions or cancer in its earliest stages before you develop symptoms. One method of screening for cervical cancer is the Pap smear test.
To improve the accuracy of your Pap smear avoid testing during your period – the best time is 10 – 20 days after the first day of your period. Also avoid douching, using vaginal creams etc., 48 hours prior to the test.
It is recommended that all women who are sexually active and/or 18 years of age be screened for cervical cancer by having a Pap test every two years or as recommended by their doctor.
It is also recommended that a women have a pelvic examination at the same time as their Pap smear.
If the cells appear to be abnormal your doctor will order additional tests.
Depends on the location and size of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, woman’s age and health and can include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.
For detailed information on the HPV vaccine, and innovations in screening, prevention and treatment strategies for Latin American and the Caribbean, visit the PAHO Cervical Cancer information portal.