Who is at high risk for cervical cancer?
In Australia, cervical cancer is less frequent than in countries that don’t have a cervical screening program. Still, 900 patients are diagnosed each year in Australia. This is also due to Australia’s cervical cancer vaccination program and cervical cancer being one of the most preventable types of cancer.
However, there still are people who are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Previous human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused the HPV infection.
- Smoking can increase your risk of cervical cancer, as well as ovarian and vulval cancer.
- Lack of regular Cervical Screening Tests
- Age. Cervical cancer is more common in younger women. Around 70% of cervical cancers are diagnosed in women under 60 years of age. However, people under 20 years of age rarely develop this cancer.
- Contraceptive pill. Long-term use of the oral contraceptive pill is associated with a small increased risk of cervical cancer. However, the pill has a substantial (50%) and long-lasting protective effect against ovarian and endometrial cancer.
- Previous abnormality of the cervix
- Having many children
- Diethylstilboestrol (DES). DES is a synthetic form of the hormone estrogen. Doctors prescribed DES to help some pregnant women to prevent miscarriage between the 1940s and 1970s in Australia. Women whose mothers were given DES during pregnancy may be at increased risk of rare types of cervical and vaginal cancer.
It is important for women to know if they are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, so they may discuss them with health professionals if concerned. Knowing cancer risk factors can prompt an individual to make lifestyle choices that may decrease cancer risk and improve overall health.
Although certain factors can increase a woman's risk for developing cervical cancer, they do not necessarily always cause the cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
If you are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, it is important to know the signs and symptoms.
It’s also important to note that patients with cervical cancer often develop no symptoms when the cancer is in its precancerous and early stages. For this reason, regular cervical cancer screening is important. Screening picks up early stages of cancer when there are no symptoms yet. Early-stage cervical cancers have a good survival rate and are highly treatable.
Cancer of the cervix can cause symptoms that may include:
- Vaginal bleeding between periods (spotting)
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Menstrual bleeding that is heavier or longer than usual
- Pain during or bleeding after intercourse
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain when urinating.
Having a cervical cancer screening test with your GP every five years is one of the most important cancer prevention measures every women should take. The test is designed to check for Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the cause of almost all cervical cancer types. If the test indicates an abnormality further tests should be performed.
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