Commonly known as a slow-growing cancer; Cervical cancer develops in the tissues between the uterus and the vagina where it usually shows very few signs or symptoms of being there. It is only usually detected through cervical smear (cervical tissue exam [Pap test]) which has been responsible for reducing the mortality rate of cervical cancer by around 70% since 1955.
Around 90% of all cervical cancer cases are due to the human papilloma virus (HPV) infection; Although, it is commonly acknowledged that most women during their life-time will have the virus (having the virus does not mean that it will cause cancer). Two types (strains) of human papilloma virus: 16 and 18 are responsible for around 70% of diagnosed cases. Other factors that may provoke an infection, include: early sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, bearing more than two or three children, and smoking.
HPV is commonly prevalent in women between the ages of 18 – 59 years old; Where it is estimated that around 25% of this age group will have HPV, and 15% of this age group will have a high-risk strain. Although this age range can be further narrowed down to the 20 – 24 year olds being at even more risk.
Studies show that the overall average age for a woman to be diagnosed with cervical cancer is 48 years old, with the possibility of developing the disease increasing as age goes on (up to 55 years old [48 – 55 years]). The risks begin to reduce significantly after the age of 55 years old (around 50% of cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 – 54 years old, and 15% in women under the age of 35 years old).
The mortality rate due to cervical cancer is higher between the ages of 45 – 70 years old (black women at the age of 70 years old are 50% more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women of the same age). This is why screening for the disease is important, as between 60% – 80% of American women diagnosed with the disease have not actually been screened in the 5-year period prior to their diagnosis (some women have never been screened).
A HPV vaccine is now available (believed to be 100% effective against two strains of HPV responsible for 70% of diagnosed cases) that is usually aimed at both girls and women between the ages of 9 – 26 years old before sexual activity begins; Although, sexual activity has usually begun many years before the age of 26 years old. Information regarding the HPV vaccine can be obtained from most local family health clinics.