Important Things to Know About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a malignancy of the female reproductive system, affecting the cervix. Relatively rare, the American Cancer Society predicted that, in the year 2017, some 12,820 American women will receive a cervical cancer diagnosis. The disease is almost always caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), a ubiquitous virus of which there are more than 150 types, the National Cancer Institute detailed.
This article will take a closer look at cervical cancer, exploring some of the most important facts that individuals need to know, before elaborating why the utilization of single-use medical tools in a clinical setting is an effective strategy in the fight against the disease.
What is cervical cancer?
Cancer can affect virtually any part of the body and forms when damaged cells begin to reproduce uncontrollably. When this process happens in the cervix, it is known as cervical cancer. As explained by the Mayo Clinic, the cervix is a major part of the female reproductive system, and is situated just below the uterus and above the vagina – it is essentially the area that connects the two.
The American Cancer Society explained how cervical cancer typically takes some time to develop. Before cancer is present, cells in the lining of the cervix undergo an initial stage of damage, which renders them “pre-cancerous.” These cells are not cancer, but carry the potential to be. Still, in a majority of cases, pre-cancerous cells do not develop into cervical cancer, as the body is usually able to eradicate them. In some cases, however, without treatment, the pre-cancerous cells will develop into a full-blown malignancy.
“Cervical cancer is invariably caused by an HPV infection.”
What are risk factors for cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is invariably caused by a human papillomavirus infection. As explained by the American Cancer Society, there are multiple types of HPV. The disease is typically contracted sexually, and in many cases the body is able to rid itself of an infection, without the individual ever knowing she was infected. In some cases, however, HPV can lead to the development of warts, particularly in the genital area. The strains of HPV that can cause warts are considered “low risk.”
There are, on the other hand, “high risk” strains of HPV, and infection with these strains can, in some cases, lead to the development of various kinds of cancer, including cancers of the anus, penis, cervix, mouth and throat. Cervical cancer is highly linked with two particular types of HPV – types 16 and 18. It is estimated that as many as two thirds of all cases of cervical cancer are caused by these two strains, the American Cancer Society noted.
HPV is the major risk factor associated with the disease although there are others. They include:
- A family history of the disease.
- Eating a poor diet lacking in fruits and vegetables.
- Using an IUD for birth control.
- Being obese.
- Having a weaker immune system.
Another interesting factor is the age of a woman’s first pregnancy. The source mentioned how women who have their first children during their teenage years, specifically under the age of 17, are at a much higher risk of cervical cancer than women who opt to have a child around or after the age of 25. The cervical cancer risk for teenage mothers is estimated to be twice that of mothers in their mid-20s or above.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
It is common for signs of cervical cancer to be detected during routine pap smears, which health care professionals recommend should begin around the age of 21, the Mayo Clinic explained. A pap smear is often incorporated into a routine pelvic exam. During this minor procedure a health care professional will insert a tool known as a speculum into the woman’s vagina, to widen the walls and allow for clear viewing. Once the area is examined for abnormalities, a small brush is inserted which is utilized to scrape off a sample of cells. The sample is then sent away to be examined for signs of cancerous or pre-cancerous cells. In some cases an HPV screening may also be performed, which looks for signs of the virus.
If cancer cells are detected, health care professionals will then investigate the cervix further, taking a full sample of tissue from inside the cervix, which is then sent off for a biopsy. Further testing is often then required before a final diagnosis of cervical cancer is made, the Mayo Clinic concluded.
How is it treated?
The National Cancer Institute explained how cervical cancer is typically treated with a combination of some of the following methods: Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and targeted therapy. The source noted that there are also many clinical trials experimenting with new treatments that a patient may wish to consider. The Mayo Clinic noted that treatment plans are by no means uniform – each individual is assessed in terms of the stage of their cancer, the spread of the disease and so on before a treatment plan is decided upon.
What is the prognosis?
If caught early enough, cervical cancer can be highly treatable. Cancer.Net reported that when the disease is caught early, five year survival rates can be a little over 90 percent. This statistic underscores the importance of routine screening.
On average, however, five year survival rates tend to be lower than this. There is unfortunately a marked racial disparity in survival rates – the source explained how the average five year survival rate for white women is 69 percent, while for black women it is notably lower at 57 percent.
According to the American Cancer Society, while it is very difficult for women to eliminate their risk of cervical cancer entirely, there are steps that can be taken to keep it as low as possible. They include:
- Limiting sexual partners.
- Using condoms during intercourse.
- Receiving the HPV vaccine.
- Not smoking.
- Undergoing routine screening.
There is also a notable step that clinicians can take to prevent cross-contamination with HPV in the medical setting – using single-use medical tools, particularly vaginal speculums. These devices are designed to be utilized one time, on a single patient, before being disposed of.
Single-use tools are safer than reusable tools, which are still widely employed across the medical sphere. Reusable devices are typically made of metal, and are used on a patient before being sterilized and used once again on a different individual. This process is repeated indefinitely until the tool becomes worn or ineffective. These reusable devices have been proven to be dangerous, however.
A widely cited study from researchers at Brigham Young University discovered that the disinfection chemicals used to sterilize reusable medical tools are not strong enough to kill certain “high risk” strains of HPV, namely types 16 and 18. Consequently, when physicians use reusable speculums on women, the patients are exposed to a risk of cross-contamination with the very virus that can engender cervical cancer. It is evident, therefore, that single-use tools are the only truly safe option.
Consider OBP Medical
OBP Medical provides a range of well-built, ready to use, single-use medical tools, including vaginal speculums. All devices come equipped with a safe LED light source, powered by lithium batteries. Learn more and request a free sample on the OBP Medical website today.