January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month and serves as a reminder to all women to speak with their physicians about the risks of developing cervical cancer, what causes it, and what they can do to prevent it.
In 2018, an estimated 13,240 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 4,170 will die from the disease. Cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable cancer, but only if people take the steps to get screened and vaccinated.
How much do you know about cervical cancer? Take this 10-question quiz, and then read the answers at the bottom.
1. Changes in the cervix are often caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (pap-ah-LO-mah-VI-rus) or HPV. True or false?
2. HPV affects both men and women. True or false?
3. Most cervical cancers can be stopped before they happen. True or false?
4. There are vaccines that help protect both young males and females from this viral infection. True or false?
5. Almost all women will have HPV at some time, but very few women will get cervical cancer. True or false?
6. Cervical pre-cancers have no signs or symptoms – and early cervical cancer rarely has any, either. True or false?
7. Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer have not been screened recently. True or false?
8. There's no treatment for the types of HPV that cause changes in cervix cells. True or false?
9. You cannot get HPV from toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing food. True or false?
10. You are at high risk for cervical cancer if you have a weak immune system (maybe from HIV infection, organ transplant, or using steroids for a long time) or because your mother took the drug DES while pregnant with you. True or false?
The answer to all questions is TRUE!
1. True. The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is HPV infection. Most HPV infections go away on their own and do not cause cancer, but there is no way to predict which HPV infections will go on to become cancer. HPV is not the same as HIV (the virus that causes AIDS).
2. True. HPV infection is so common that it will infect most women and men at some point in their lives. A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine found that more men are becoming infected with an oral type of HPV infection that can cause throat and tongue cancers. According to the report, men are now getting HPV-related oral cancers at a faster rate than women are getting HPV-related cervical cancers. The researchers say this trend is expected to continue and not reverse until after the year 2060. HPV also can cause vaginal, vulvar, anal, and penile cancers.
3. True. Finding cervix cell changes early with a Pap test and getting HPV tests, too, can help save your life. There's an HPV test that looks for the types of HPV most likely to cause cervical cancer. The test is done just like a Pap test and can be done at the same time as the Pap test. You may have had an HPV test at your last visit to the doctor or clinic and didn't know it. The HPV test can be used (along with a Pap test) to look for cervical cancer in women who are age 30 or older, but it's not recommended for younger women. Read our cervical cancer screening guidelines.
4. True. Vaccinations can protect people from getting the types of HPV that most often cause cancer and genital warts. Vaccines that protect against the types of HPV that cause 90% of cervical cancers, as well as several other diseases and cancers, are recommended to be given to girls and boys ages 11 to 12 years of age. Read more here.
5. True. About 80% of women will get HPV at some point in their life, but in the vast majority of women these virus will not cause any symptoms or problems. We know that HPV infections that don't go away can cause cervix cell changes, and those changes can lead to cervical cancer. But this happens very slowly – over 10 to 20 years. Many women younger than 30 will have HPV, but these infections are more likely to go away.
6. True. Pre-invasive cervical lesions often have no symptoms. Once abnormal cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue, the most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, which may start and stop between regular menstrual periods or cause menstrual bleeding to last longer or be heavier than usual. Bleeding may also occur after sexual intercourse, douching, a pelvic exam, or menopause. Increased vaginal discharge may also be a symptom.
7. True. Cervical cancer is rare in women who get regular screening tests.
8. There are no medicines to treat HPV; there are treatments for the cell changes in the cervix that HPV can cause. If your Pap test shows cervix cell changes, your doctor or nurse will talk to you about treatments, if you need them.
9. True. You cannot get HPV from toilet seats, swimming pools, or sharing food.
10. True. Several other factors known to increase the risk of both persistent HPV infection and progression to cancer include a high number of childbirths and cigarette smoking. Long-term use of oral contraceptives is also associated with increased risk of cervical cancer, although risk gradually declines after stopping use.