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What is Cervical Cancer?

What is Cervical Cancer?

Prevention International: No Cervical Cancer (PINCC) is a group of doctors and counselors; we travel to many places around the world to help women stay healthy. We are most interested in helping to keep women from getting cervical cancer. Read about our sustainable cervical cancaer prevention programs in India, East Africa, and Latin America.

Cervical cancer is a terrible disease that kills 280,000 women every year worldwide, mostly in less developed countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The saddest part is that it is completely preventable! We are working to prevent it. Click here to learn how you can get involved.


Who is likely to get Cervical Cancer?

Women over the age of 35, women who had sex before they were 15, and women with HIV have the highest risk. Women who have had many sex partners or whose partner has had many sexual contacts are also at higher risk.

What is a Cervix?

The cervix is the mouth of the uterus (womb) that sits at the back of the vagina. It's where a sperm gets in to make a baby, and how the baby comes out later.

Cervical cancer is caused by an invisible virus that is spread by having sex, just like HIV. It's called HPV (human papillomavirus), and more than half of women have it by age 35. Most men and women don't know they have it, unless they get the kind that causes warts: little bumps you may see or feel on the woman's or man's genitals. Warts are not cancer.

How is cervical cancer prevented?

The HPV virus gets into the skin of the vagina and cervix and lives there. Many infections are cleared up by your own immune system; but the bad kinds can stay, and slowly cause changes in the cervix that may become cancer, over a 5 to 10 year time period. These abnormal cells are called dysplasia. If it is found and treated early, it can be completely removed. We can look at your cervix with a simple test, called VIA (washing it with vinegar), and see the dysplasia. Then we can freeze them, or remove them. VIA is even better than a Pap test in finding the dysplasia. It is not painful, just a little uncomfortable.

If we see precancerous cells, we will take a biopsy to be sure. This is a small pinch of skin, which we send to a laboratory for examination under a microscope. We will also check inside the cervix to be sure we don't miss anything.

If we think it is not too severe, and we can see all of it, we can freeze and kill the dysplasia. This is called cryotherapy. It causes a little menstrual-type cramps for a few minutes; we can give you medicine (Ibuprofen) to help the cramps. The frozen dead skin will gradually fall off, while new healthy skin grows underneath. You will have a watery discharge for about 2 or 3 weeks. You should not put anything in the vagina or have sex till the discharge stops, so it heals well.

If the dysplasia is severe, or we can't see it all, we need to remove those areas of the cervix. We will make it all numb so you don't feel any pain; then we use a thin wire with electricity to remove the bad parts. This is called LEEP. We will send the tissue to a lab to be sure there was no cancer, only dysplasia. We will use a tiny electric ball to stop the bleeding; then we paint the cervix with a mustard-like medicine to help it heal.

Afterwards, you will have a discharge of blood, like a period, and a dark grainy stuff like coffee grounds for 2 to 3 weeks. It is best not to do any heavy lifting or exercise for a week, so the bleeding doesn't get worse. It is very important that you don't put anything in the vagina during the healing time, about 1 month, so it can heal up well. Otherwise you could have more bleeding, or re-infect the healthy new skin that is growing. Be sure to explain this to your partner. Using a condom for 2 months after treatment also helps to prevent recurrence. 9 out of 10 women have no more dysplasia after treatment; but you should be re-examined in 6 months to be sure, as a few women need another treatment.

Having treatment for dysplasia will not keep you from getting pregnant or having a baby. However, you should not have LEEP or cryotherapy while you are pregnant. Tell the doctor or counselor if you think you might be pregnant.

If you have HIV or AIDS, the HPV virus will develop towards cancer much more rapidly. Even if you have been treated in the past, the pre-cancerous cells can recur. It is very important that you have frequent, regular examinations for dysplasia (every 6 months).

Share this information about preventing cervical cancer with your friends and family. You, too, could help to save someone's life!