What is cervical cancer?

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The cervix is a part of the female reproductive system, which also includes the fallopian tubes, uterus (womb), ovaries, vagina (birth canal) and vulva (external genitals). Cervical cancer develops from the tissues of the cervix.

Human papillomavirus (HPV)

  • Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection called human papillomavirus (HPV).
  • HPV is the name for a groups of viruses - it is a common infection that affects the surface of different areas of the body such as cervix, vagina and skin.
  • There is more than 100 types of HPV and 40 types of HPV are spread through sexual contact.
  • About 4 out of 5 people will become infected with a least one type of genital HPV at some time in their lives.
  • Most people will not know they have HPV as it is usually harmless and doesn't cause symptoms. In most people, the virus is cleared quickly and no treamtent is needed.
  • Screening tests are used to detect most types of HPV.
  • There is also a vaccine that protects people from some types of HPV. As part of the national HPV vaccination program, the vaccine is free for girls and boys aged 12-13.
  • People who are already sexually active may still benefit from the HPV vaccine.
  • The HPV vaccine does not treat pre-cancerous cell changes or cervical cancer.
  • If you've been vaccinated, you will still need regular screening tests as the PV vaccine does not provide protection agianst all types of HPV.

What causes cervical cancer?

99% of cervical cancer cases are caused by HPV infection.

There are other risk factors for cervical cancer including:

  • Smoking
  • Lack of regular cervical screening tests
  • Age - cervical cancer mainly occurs in women over 35 years old.
  • 70% of cervical cancers are diagnosed in women under 60 years old
  • Previous abnormality or cancer of the cervix
  • Having many children - giving birth to 5 or more children may slightly increase the risk for women who have HPV infection
  • Diethystilboestrol (DES) - women who were exposed to this medication before they were born.

How will I know I have it?

The only way to know if there are abnormal cells in the cervix that may develop into cervical cancer is to have a cervical screening test.

Signs and symptoms to look out for are:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods, after menopause or during or after sexual intercourse
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Heavier periods or periods that last longer than usual

Is there a test?

  • The Cervical Screening Test is used to look for the types of HPV that can cause cells to change and in some cases, cause cervical cancer.
  • This test replaces the Pap Test. The Cervical Screening Test should be done every 5 years from 25 years of age. 
  • Women should have a final test when they are aged between 70 and 74.
  • Your first Cervical Screening Test is due two years after your last Pap test.

Ask the health centre staff to put you on the waiting list for a check-up with a Women's Health Nurse.

Looking after your health on the inside

There are a number of ways you can get healthy and stay healthy while your are inside:

  • Move more - try walking with a friend or playing a game.
  • Exercise or train with a friend like your cellie. It's a good way to help each other get healthy and stay healthy.
  • Eat more fruit and veg - check the buy-ups list and look for the OK sign.
  • Cut down on sugar, salt and fat in what you eat and drink.
  • Make water your main drink Stay quit smoking or cut down.
  • Aim for a waist measurement of no more than 88cm.
  • Set some goals for yourself each week.

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