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Cervical cancer - Types, Risk Factors and Prevention

Cervical cancer - types, risk factors and prevention

Types of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is divided into two main types: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Each is distinguished by the appearance of cells under a microscope.

  • Squamous cell carcinomas begin in the thin, flat cells lining the cervix's bottom. This type accounts for about 90 per cent of cervical cancers.
  • Adenocarcinomas of the cervix develop in the glandular cells that line the upper portion of the cervix. Cervical adenocarcinomas make up most of the remaining cervical cancer cases.

Both types of cervical cancer may come with symptoms, such as:

  • Changes in vaginal bleeding or discharge, including bleeding after sex

  • Lower abdominal/pelvic pain

  • Pain with sex

Cervical cancer risk factors

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Many sexual partners. The greater your number of sexual partners — and the greater your partner's number of sexual partners — the greater your chance of acquiring HPV.

  • Early sexual activity. Having sex at an early age increases your risk of HPV.

  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS — increases your risk of HPV.

  • A weakened immune system. You may be more likely to develop cervical cancer if another health condition weakens your immune system and you have HPV.

  • Smoking. Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer.

  • Exposure to miscarriage-prevention drugs. If your mother took a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant in the 1950s, you may have an increased risk of a specific type of cervical cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma. 

Prevention

To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:

  • Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.

  • Have routine Pap tests. Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.

  • Practice safe sex. Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.

  • Don't smoke. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.

Additional actions people can take to help prevent cervical cancer include:

  • Delaying first sexual intercourse until the late teens or older

  • Limiting the number of sexual partners

  • Practicing safer sex by using condoms and dental dams

  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who have had many partners

  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with people who are infected with genital warts or who show other symptoms.


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