Early Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
There are usually no early symptoms of cervical cancer. However, regular cervical cancer screenings can help healthcare providers find abnormal cells before cancer develops -- even when no early signs or symptoms are present. As a result, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider about how often you should have Pap smears based on your particular situation.
An Introduction to the Early Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time, which means that before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as dysplasia (precancerous changes). During dysplasia, cells that are not normal begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Later, cancer cells start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.
Specific Early Cervical Cancer Symptoms
There are usually no early symptoms of cervical cancer, which is why cervical cancer screenings are so important. Regular Pap tests allow doctors to see early changes in the cervix that could be the beginning of cervical cancer. It is important to note that pain is not an early cervical cancer symptom. Therefore, you should not to wait to feel pain before seeing a healthcare provider.
Why Early Cervical Cancer Screenings Are So Important
Cervical cancer screenings are extremely important because they can help doctors find abnormal cells before cancer develops. Finding and treating abnormal cells can prevent most cervical cancer, and treatment is more likely to be effective if cancer is found early.
The number of women who are diagnosed each year has been decreasing for the past several decades. Doctors believe that this decrease is directly related to the success of cervical cancer screening.
In order to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer, healthcare providers recommend that women have regular Pap tests. A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear or cervical smear, is a simple test that is used to look at cervical cells.
Pap tests are important because they can find cervical cancer or abnormal cells that can lead to cervical cancer. Doctors generally recommend that:
- Women should begin having Pap tests three years after they begin having sexual intercourse or when they reach age 21 (whichever comes first).
- Most women should have a Pap test at least once every three years. Talk to your healthcare provider about what schedule is best for you.
- Women age 65 to 70 who have had at least three normal Pap tests and no abnormal Pap tests in the past 10 years may decide, after speaking with their doctor, to stop cervical cancer screening.
- Women who have had a hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix, also called a total hysterectomy, do not need to have cervical cancer screening. However, if the surgery was used as a treatment for precancerous cells or cancer, the woman should continue with these screenings.
Women should talk with their healthcare provider about when they should begin having Pap tests, how often they should have them, and when they can stop having them. This is especially important for women who have a higher-than-average risk of cervical cancer.