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What every woman needs to know about cervical cancer

By Christina Katz

This year 4,400 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States, even though if caught early on many cases of cervical cancer can be treated. By becoming informed and taking responsible action, women can significantly decrease their chances of contracting cervical cancer. Take the time during Cervical Health Awareness Month (January) to learn more about how you can prevent this deadly disease.

Statistics at a Glance

  • During 2001, about 12,900 cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.

  • Between 1955 and 1992, the number of cervical cancer deaths in the United States declined by 74%. The main reason for this change is the increased use of the Pap test, a screening procedure that permits diagnosis of pre-invasive and early invasive cancer.

    What is Cervical Cancer?
    The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Cancer of the cervix is a cancer beginning in the lining of the cervix. Cervical cancers do not form suddenly. There is a gradual change from a normal cervix to precancer to cancer. Some women with precancerous changes of the cervix will develop cancer. This usually takes several years but sometimes can happen in less than a year. For some women, precancerous changes may go away without any treatment. More often, if these precancers are treated, true cancers can be prevented.

    What Factors Increase the Risk of Cervical Cancer?

  • The average age of women newly diagnosed with cervical cancer is between 50 and 55 years. The risk of developing this cancer is very low among girls less than fifteen.

  • Having a high number of sexual partners or having sex with people who have had many sexual partners increases the risk of exposure to HPV (Human papillomavirus). This disease is passed from one person to another by sexual contact.

  • Smoking produces cancer-causing chemicals that may damage the DNA of cells of the cervix and contribute to the development of cancer.

  • HIV infection makes a woman's immune system less able to fight HPV and early cervical cancers.

  • The death rate for African Americans with cervical cancer is over twice the national average. Hispanics and American Indians also have cervical cancer death rates that are above average.

  • Poor nutrition also increases risk, perhaps by depressing the immune system, so a woman is less able to fight HPV and cancers.

  • No definite evidence exists linking the use of oral contraceptives with cervical cancer.

    Steps You Can Take to Prevent Cervical Cancer

  • Prevent precancers. Most precancers of the cervix can be prevented by avoiding risk factors. Limiting your number of sexual partners and avoiding sex with people who have had many other sexual partners decreases your risk of exposure to HPV.

  • Have a Pap test to detect HPV infection and precancers. Treatment of these disorders can stop cervical cancer before it is fully developed. Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests.

  • Make a tax-deductible donation to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition. If your employer has a matching gift program, you may be able to double your gift to NCCC.

    For more information about The National Cervical Cancer Coalition visit:

    Source: The American Cancer Society

    Also see:
    Fitness runs in the Family: How to Raise a Healthy Kid!

    Christina Katz is an writer, writing instructor, and writing coach from Wilsonville, Oregon. Christina is currently writing a book about how women make time for themselves and how you can too. If you would like to share your insights, please do not hesitate to contact her. For more information e-mail or visit

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