Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. Knowing the signs, risk factors and getting regular screenings from your doctor are the key to stopping cervical cancer before it develops. Cervical cancer develops slowly and can stay in a symptom-free stage for years. The earliest sign of cervical cancer is an abnormal pap smear, which, in the early pre-cancerous stage most often curable. That is why it is so important to get screened regularly.
The main symptom of cervical cancer is abnormal bleeding, such as bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause. However, bleeding can also be caused by other conditions. Less common symptoms include abdominal pain, foul-smelling discharge, or periods that are heavier than usual, —which usually only present in advanced stages of the cancer. Factors that put you at risk for cervical cancer include: being diagnosed with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), not being vaccinated for HPV, not getting regular pap smears, a history of abnormal pap smears, having multiple sex partners, or if you have an autoimmune disease.
More than 80 percent of Cervical Cancer cases are caused by HPV. An individual can be infected with HPV and not have symptoms until pre-cancerous cells are found on the cervix. Therefore, the best method of preventing Cervical Cancer is to receive the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective when given before an individual becomes sexually active. The optimal age to receive the HPV vaccine is between 9-26 years old and it is safe for individuals as young as nine. Cone Health partners with the community to offer free cervical cancer screenings to eligible women in the community.
Cone Health Cancer Center holds a monthly GYN Care Group, which is a support group for women who are or have been in treatment for gynecological cancer. To find out more about screenings and support groups, visit http://www.conehealth.com.
Melissa Cross is a nurse practitioner for the Gynecological Oncology Program at Cone Health Cancer Center. Cross received a Bachelor of Science in nursing in 2006 and a Master of Science in adult and geriatric nursing in 2012, both from UNCG. She also manages day to day operations and sees patients in clinic. She assisted in the development of the GYN Care Group, a support group for women with gynecological cancers that is unique in our region and valued by the women who participate.