Cervical cancer is nothing to mess around with. It’s even often referred to as “the silent killer” because symptoms typically don’t appear until the cancer has already spread. A new study, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), reveals an interesting link between a woman’s income level and her risk of developing cervical cancer. What risk level do you fall into? Keep reading for more information . . .
Cervical cancer is, in its simplest terms, cancer of cervix. The cervix makes up the lower third portion of the uterus, acting as a passageway connecting the uterus and the vagina.
There are different types and classifications of cervical cancer, depending on which cells are affected, and at what stage the cancer is detected.
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
In most cases, cervical cancer is asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms). Usually, by the time symptoms appear it’s because the cancer has spread; this is why cervical cancer is so often referred to as “the silent killer.”
Some symptoms that may signify cervical cancer are abnormal bleeding, unusual or heavy discharge, pelvic pain, pain during urination, or bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, douching, or after pelvic exams.
It’s important to remember that these symptoms may be representative of other illnesses, which is why you should speak with your doctor if you’re experiencing any one of them.
What are the Causes of Cervical Cancer?
There are several risk factors associated with a woman’s chances of developing cervical cancer in her lifetime. These risk factors include:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Sexual history
- Pap test history
- Tobacco use
- Eating habits
- Weakened immune system
Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. HPV, which is transmitted during sexual contact, is a virus that can infect the genital tract, the extreme genitals, or the area around the anus. In fact, there are 170 different types of HPV but only certain types of HPV are dangerous. It’s these dangerous genetic types of HPV that increase the risk of abnormal cell growth, which progressively can lead to cervical cancer.
A woman’s sexual history is also an important determinant of her likelihood of developing cervical cancer. A woman who has had multiple sexual partners, started having sexual relations before the age of 18 or who has had sexual relations with a partner who has had sexual contact with a woman with cervical cancer is more likely than a woman without these characteristics to develop cervical cancer.
As important as these both are, poverty may actually be the most telling risk factor of all. That’s because a woman who lives in poverty is less likely to get the care she needs (regular pap tests), and typically has higher tobacco use rates and poorer eating habits than more affluent women.
Study about HPV
A recent study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) paints a strong picture of the link between income and cervical cancer occurrences; poorer women had become sexually active an average of four years earlier than women with more money.
Becoming sexually active at an earlier age increases the likelihood of having more sexual partners, which in turn increases the chances of having sexual contact with a partner who can pass on HPV, the cause of cervical cancer.
Silvia Franeschi of the IARC, and leader of the study, feels that this early potential exposure to HPV gives the virus “more time to produce the long sequence of events that are needed for cancer development.”
What it all Means
Current estimates are that 70% of the population is infected with HPV. Even though not all HPV strains cause cervical cancer, this is still a startling statistic and brings to light the need for women to work with their doctors and get screened, through regular pap smears, for the disease.
Also, it’s a good idea to use condoms when engaging in sexual relations, even though their effectiveness isn’t guaranteed to protect against HPV (HPV is passed through skin to skin contact, not the exchange of bodily fluids, and condoms don’t necessarily cover the skin that’s affected by the disease).
And finally, limiting the number of sexual partners one has in their lifetime may help limit exposure to HPV and ultimately the risk of cervical cancer.