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Cancer symptoms: A common STI is the cause of ‘nearly all cervical cancers’ – signs

Lisa Maffia discusses her 'cervical cancer' diagnosis

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Defined as an STI by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the human papillomavirus (HPV) – responsible for tumour development – can be caught from skin-to-skin contact in the genital region and through sexual intercourse. The infection is highly transmittable and common, but certain people are more at risk of having HPV.

Those most at risk include:

  • People who are sexually active
  • People who have multiple sexual partners
  • Smokers
  • Those who have a suppressed immune system, from any immunosuppressive condition
  • People who do not use barrier method of contraception (like condoms or diaphragms).

“Cervical cancer is diagnosed when there is the presence of cancerous cells in the cervix,” Professor Chatterjee explained.

The consultant gynae-oncologist elaborated: “This is an opening between the vagina and the womb and is part of the reproductive system.”

He clarified: “Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by an infection from certain strains of HPV.

“However, reassuringly, cervical cancer can be prevented by attending cervical screening appointments, commonly known as smear tests.”

Professor Chatterjee pointed out that women and people who have a cervix are called for their first cervical screening just before they reach the age of 25.

“Cervical screening can detect HPV and abnormal cells,” he said. “If detected, HPV and abnormal cells can effectively be treated before cervical cancer develops.

“Therefore, cervical cancer screenings are so vital to attend for those eligible.”

The smear test is offered every three years so that people’s health can be monitored.

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Young teenagers are also offered the HPV vaccine to help protect against cancers caused by the virus.

“It’s also important to note that cervical cancer is treatable, especially if detected early,” Professor Chatterjee added.

Early symptoms of cervical cancer

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding during or after sex, between periods or after the menopause
  • Having inexplicably heavier or irregular periods than usual
  • Changes to vaginal discharge
  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in your lower back, in the pelvic and hip area, or in your lower abdomen.

“Usually, these symptoms can be due to other less serious condition,” said Professor Chatterjee.

Examples include: polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, or fibroids.

“However, it’s important to visit your GP right away if you do experience these symptoms,” said the professor.

He added: “You can have the necessary tests to rule out any sinister pathology.”

Some HPV strains cause genital warts, with the NHS pointing out that there are “more than 100 different types” of the virus.

Young teenagers are also offered the HPV vaccine to help protect against cancers caused by the virus.

“It’s also important to note that cervical cancer is treatable, especially if detected early,” Professor Chatterjee added.

Early symptoms of cervical cancer

Unusual vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding during or after sex, between periods or after the menopause

Having inexplicably heavier or irregular periods than usual

Changes to vaginal discharge

Pain during sex

Pain in your lower back, in the pelvic and hip area, or in your lower abdomen.

“Usually, these symptoms can be due to other less serious condition,” said Professor Chatterjee.

The health body added: “[HPV is] very common. Most people will get some type of HPV in their life.”

HPV infections tend to be cleared by the body within two years, but treatment will be needed if genital warts appear or there are changes to the cervix.

To keep on top of your health, attending cervical screenings is paramount.

Professor Jay Chatterjee is the Consultant Gynae-oncologist at The Lister Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.

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