22–28 of January 2024
Cervical cancer is one of the few types of tumors that can be diagnosed, treated, and cured before reaching a dangerous stage. Prevention of this cancer involves appropriate screenings that are painless and easy to conduct.
Cervical Cancer Prevention Week is marked across Europe from January 22 to 28, 2024, to draw attention to the dangers of this cancer, as well as highlighting the significant opportunities for early detection and prevention.
What does cervical cancer prevention entail?
In Serbia alone, around 1,500 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually, and nearly 700 lose their lives. The majority of these deaths can be prevented if cancer is detected in the early stages.
As part of early detection, a cervical canal smear (PAP smear) is taken and the cervical cells are microscopically examined for potential cell changes indicative of precancerous alterations. Regular PAP smear screenings provide the opportunity to detect such precancerous changes early and permanently remove them through a minimally stressful procedure. This examination should be performed annually in women over the age of 20, and in women over 35, testing for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV) is recommended every 3 years, along with PAP smear collection.
Since 2006, there has been a preventive vaccination against cervical cancer. It protects against infection against the most important types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cancer, but it does not replace early detection. Vaccination is particularly recommended for young girls before their first sexual contact; however, even women who have already had HPV-induced changes on the cervix can receive this vaccine.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can cervical cancer be detected early and cured in the early stages?
Changes preceding cervical cancer can be detected early, and these changes are removed through various methods. Early stages of an already-formed cancer can be treated with a combination of surgical procedures and medications.
Who is most commonly affected by this disease?
Women under the age of 45 are most commonly affected by this disease, and increasingly, women under 30 are also affected. Therefore, it is extremely important to start preventive screenings in the months after the first sexual contact.
What causes cervical cancer?
In most cases, specific types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are the cause. They, along with other types of this virus, can be detected through a test that can be combined with the PAP smear.
How is the HPV virus transmitted?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is transmitted through sexual contact.
What prevents the transmission of human papillomavirus?
Transmission of the virus is prevented by using condoms during sexual contact and timely vaccinating girls and boys aged 9 to 14. Vaccination is also possible after the age of 14.
Is it necessary to undergo preventive screening every year even if you have no symptoms?
Changes in the cervix caused by the HPV virus do not lead to symptoms. Since this virus leads to the appearance of genital warts, also known as condylomas, these may be the first signs that a person is infected with the virus.
Simultaneous occurrence of changes on the cervix and condylomas on the external genitalia is not mandatory, so a person can be infected without visible changes. For this reason, annual preventive screening is mandatory for every woman.
What does a preventive cervical screening include?
A preventive screening involves an examination of the external genitalia, followed by collecting a PAP smear from the cervix. Subsequently, the cervix is stained with special solutions and observed under magnification.
Changes in the color of cervical tissue under these solutions can provide information about possible cell changes. If necessary, a swab for the presence of human papillomavirus is taken, as well as various bacteriological swabs.
After this step, the gynecologist examines the potential painful sensitivity of the cervix and ovaries.
The internal reproductive organs of the woman, the uterus and ovaries, are visualized by ultrasound (vaginally).
The final step in the complete gynecological examination is a manual breast examination, performed for breast cancer prevention.
Is this examination painful, and how long does it take?
A complete gynecological examination is not painful and takes about 20 minutes. However, at certain moments, it can become mildly uncomfortable.
A comprehensive gynecological examination once a year can prevent the occurrence of many diseases of the female genital tract, with cervical cancer being one of the most dangerous.
Take notice that just half an hour annually for a preventive examination can determine the course of your life.
Dr Milica Petrović Kmezić