Cervical cancer is the third most common gynecologic malignancy with over 12,000 new cases being diagnosed in the Untied States each year. Ninety-nine percent of all cervical cancers are caused by the virus HPV. Eighty percent of women will encounter the virus at some point in their lifetime. Most will fight off the virus within 1-2 years. Risk factors for acquiring cervical cancer are centered around risks of encountering the virus. They include early age at first sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, intercourse with a high risk sexual partner, history of prior sexually transmitted diseases, cigarette smoking, and immunosuppression. Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include bleeding or spotting after intercourse, abnormal or foul smelling vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain. Prevention is paramount in the fight against cervical cancer. Yearly gynecologic exams are essential. The pap smear is our best screening tool and often aides in diagnosing precancerous lesions early so that treatment can be implemented prior to becoming an invasive cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both women and men ages 9-26. This vaccine protects against the two most virulent strains of the virus (HPV 16 & 18), as well as HPV 6 & 11 which are associated with genital warts. Diagnosis is made by biopsy and staging of this disease is done clinically.
Early stage cervical cancers can be treated by surgery alone, whereas larger lesions require radiation along with sensitizing chemotherapy. Metastatic disease often requires systemic chemotherapy. Determination of the appropriate treatment modality may require imaging studies including CT or PET scan. Consultation with a gynecologic oncologist can aide in the coordination of care. Often patients will also need to see a medical oncologist and/or radiation oncologist as well.
Talya Schwarzberg, MD
Dr. Schwarzberg is currently seeing patients with different types of cancers, with a focus on breast and gynecologic cancers. She is a member of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.