There's a lot of misinformation to be found when it comes to you and your uterus! Staying informed on your private healthcare shouldn't require a private investigation to determine fact from fiction when it comes to women's health. At The Woman's Clinic, we're committed to demystifying women's healthcare and providing you (and your uterus!) with simple, honest facts.
Cervical cancer, like ovarian cancer and breast cancer, is an often under-diagnosed female cancer that affects1 in every 125 women. One of the primary reasons why cervical cancer often goes undiagnosed is due to the wealth of misinformation regarding cervical cancer symptoms, screening, and women's wellness.
We're debunking the Top 5 Myths about Cervical Cancer to spread awareness -- not fear -- and empower women in their healthcare journey.
1.) An HPV Infection Will Clear Up On Its Own
Human papillomavirus or HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States. There were roughly 43 million HPV infections in 2018, most affecting women in their teens and twenties. However, women of all ages are at risk for contracting HPV. HPV affects many women indiscriminately, including those who have had only one sexual partner.
Despite the prevalence of this virus, misinformation still abounds when it comes to the assumption that HPV will clear up on its own. Mild cases of HPV do often resolve themselves, however, untreated HPV can progress and cause numerous health problems. Genital warts are one of the more common problems associated with HPV, as well as the increased risk of developing cervical cancer. Precancerous lesions may develop and pose a risk to your overall cervical health.
HPV spreads rapidly. By leaving HPV untreated, your partner is also at risk of developing the virus. It's best to seek treatment immediately if you notice any HPV symptoms or have an abnormal pap smear.
2.) HPV Will Always Develop Into Cervical Cancer
Despite our cautionary warning, it's important to note that HPV does not always result in cervical cancer. In fact, HPV very rarely results in cervical cancer! Only 10% of women who experience an HPV infection will develop high-risk HPV. High-risk HPV may or may not develop into cancer. More often, your gynecologist will be able to detect pre-cancerous cells before these malignant cells have time to spread.
The good news is that annual exams and regular screening are the best way to catch and treat any abnormalities before they pose a more serious health risk.
3.) If Someone In Your Family Had Cervical Cancer, You Will Develop It Too
All cancers have a certain degree of hereditary risk. However, the link between genetics and cervical cancer risk is minimal to moderate at best. Hereditary risk of cervical cancer can be linked to the BRCA gene. BRCA gene mutations have been studied in relation to increases in cervical, esophagus, liver, stomach, and uterine cancers; however, the increased risks were inconsistent and ranged from one to fourfold.
Cervical cancer does not have a strong genetic component. While it is always helpful to share your family health history with your doctor, there's no need to be overly concerned about developing cervical cancer symptoms based on family history alone.
4.) If You Don't Have Symptoms, There's No Need For A Pap Smear
Cervical cancer screening is an important part of women's wellness. Many women experience little to no cervical cancer symptoms. This is one of the many reasons why this specific type of cancer goes undiagnosed. Once cervical cancer symptoms do begin to appear, this is often an indication that cancer has already progressed.
Luckily, the cervical cancer survival rate is very high compared to other cancers. Early detection is key when it comes to avoiding more intensive cervical cancer treatment options such as a full hysterectomy and ensuring a complete recovery and remission. Stage 1 cervical cancer typically has an 80-99% remission rate. The cervical cancer survival rate becomes more concerning in later stages, once cancer has had time to progress and potentially spread to the bladder, liver, and other organs. Stage 2 cervical cancer has a 60-90% recovery rate, while Stage 3 cervical cancer has a 30-50% recovery rate.
Prevention is the best treatment when it comes to protecting your personal health and wellness. Discuss the recommended cadence for your annual pap smear with your healthcare provider. Most women should receive a screening yearly to every three years. Knowledge is the best tool for your women's wellness team as we continue to empower you in your healthcare journey.
5.) An Annual Exam Tests For All Gynecologic Cancers
Gynecologists may be downright magical at times. Your women's healthcare team can help manage PMS, recommend the best birth control for you, and keep you healthy and well through all of life's adventures. However, even gynecologists have their limits.
We're sad to say that an annual exam does not screen for all gynecologic cancers. While cervical cancer can typically be detected by an abnormal pap smear result, there are other types of women's cancers to be aware of. Ovarian cancer is similar to cervical cancer, but forms in the fallopian tubes and occurs in the ovaries rather than the cervix. Endometrial cancer can occur in the lining of the uterus, while vulvar cancer and vaginal cancer occur in each respective part of the female reproductive system.
All of these potential health risks shouldn't leave you paranoid about your personal wellness. Just the opposite, we believe information is power when it comes to our patients' healthcare. Discuss your screening regimen with your doctor for all women's cancers, including breast cancer screenings and other conditions you may be at risk for. Based on your healthcare history, your doctor can help determine a recommended prevention plan that best suits your medical needs. Raising awareness of cervical cancer in women is the best way to take control of our personal health and wellness. Stop wondering and start talking. Contact our women's health team today. We're happy to schedule your first annual wellness exam and answer any questions you may have along the way. Let's clear up the myths surrounding women's healthcare and start celebrating your amazing wellness journey!