Circumcision And Cervical Cancer

By Sharon A Bell

The bad news about cervical cancer is that it is one of the most common cancers affecting the female reproductive organs. But cheer up! It's a slow-growing cancer and 100 percent curable if detected early.

Cervical cancer usually affects women between 30 and 55 years old. The National Cancer Institute said there are over 11,000 cases discovered every year.

Who gets cervical cancer? Naturally, any woman with a cervix is prone to the disease, but there are certain risk factors to consider. Sexual promiscuity is one of them.

Women who begin having sex before age 18 are more likely to get the disease. The cervix simply can't stand numerous penile thrusts from different men who may carry a variety of infections. These include the papilloma virus (which is responsible for warts), genital herpes, the chlamydia organism, and other cancer-causing agents.

It you have had many pregnancies which started at a tender age, that puts you at risk for cervical cancer as well. On a positive side, women who use barrier methods of contraception, namely, the cervical cap, diaphragm, or let their partners wear a condom, which in all cases protect the cervix, have a lower cancer rate.

For some reason, smoking affects the cervix and the nicotine buildup in that organ can trigger the disease. Passive smokers face the same risk. So stop smoking now and avoid those who do. A diet rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and folacin is believed to be protective against cervical cancer. So it's probably wise to eat your veggies.

Circumcision was once thought to protect women from cervical cancer but we now know that this is not true. This painful procedure has no medical benefit and should be discouraged except in special cases.

There are usually no symptoms in the early stage of the disease. Warning signals include bleeding after intercourse, bleeding between periods or after menopause. In some, there is a watery, bloody discharge from the vagina. A dull backache may be felt later.

With early detection, cervical cancer is highly curable provided it has not spread beyond the uterus. A yearly pelvic exam and a routine Pap test can save you a lot of trouble.

Since the 1940s, the Pap smear has reduced cervical cancer death rates by 70 percent. Today, only about three percent of women die from the disease thanks to this valuable test.

"A Pap smear is the best screening procedure for cervical cancer. It can detect early lesions as well as pre-malignant lesions of the cervix. Aside from that, a Pap smear can also detect infection," according to Dr. Rey de los Reyes, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the United Doctors Medical Center in the Philippines.

The Pap smear is named after Dr. G.N. Papanicolaou who developed it. In this test, the doctor gathers cell samples from the surface of the cervix by means of scraping it with a wooden spatula, brush, or cotton swab. The cell samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis.

"A negative result means that your cervix is normal; positive result indicates some abnormal cells. A positive result does not prove that you have cancer or even dysplasia, a precancerous condition, but it usually does mean you should have further evaluation, such as colposcopic examination and biopsy,'' said Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the "Mayo Clinic Family Health Book."

A colposcope is an instrument with a magnifying lens which helps the physician examine the cervix. While doing so, he removes a bit of the cervix (biopsy) for analysis.

"Once you have a suspicious lesion on the cervix that should be biopsied. Since some lesions of the cervix and even an infection can look like cervical cancer, a biopsy can accurately detect the disease," De los Reyes said. (Next: When should you have a Pap test?)

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