By Optum New Mexico
Until the introduction and increased use of the Papanicolaou (Pap) test, a screening test used to determine the health of cervical cells, cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. In recent years, however, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped significantly due to the increased use of the Pap test.
In New Mexico, between 2015 and 2019, the incidence rate for cervical cancer across all ages and races dropped 2.4 percent; mortality rates declined by 1.2 percent, according to the most recent data from the New Mexico Department of Health. Approximately 78 New Mexico women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and about 23 die from the disease., the department states. According to the American Cancer Society, about 14,100 new cases of invasive cervical cancer were expected to be diagnosed in 2022 and about 4,280 women nationwide would die from cervical cancer.
The American Cancer Society advises that the best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screening tests, including a test for HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted infection, and/or the Pap test. These types of screenings can help to determine if there are any cervical changes that might lead to cancer, whether an early form of cancer might be present or whether you have a certain type of infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
During these tests, the physician performing the examination will scrape cells from the cervix and test them for cancer or any abnormalities that may be precursors of cancer. If a pre-cancer is found during this examination, it can be treated before turning into cervical cancer. An HPV test will also help determine your risk of developing cervical cancer by searching for types of HPV that may be more likely to cause cervical cancer.
Women older than 65 should not necessarily stop getting screened, as the Centers for Disease Control states that women can still get cervical cancer when older than 65 years. Screening after age 65 may be appropriate for some women at high risk, including women with a history of cervical lesions or cancer, women whose mothers took a hormone called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant, or women who have a weakened immune system, the CDC states. Women older than age 65 who may be at high risk should talk with their doctors about how often to get screened and until what age.
Typically, symptoms of cervical cancer do not show up until cancer has invaded tissues in the area surrounding the cervix and/or has spread to other organs, such as those in the pelvis or the lungs and liver. Symptoms may include pain during sex or general pain in the pelvis, abnormal vaginal discharge that can occur between menstruation or after menopause, and vaginal bleeding or spotting that is abnormal. More advanced disease symptoms can include blood in urine, swollen legs, and issues with bowel movements or urination. Although these symptoms are common with advanced cervical cancer, they are also common to a variety of other conditions. If you are experiencing any abnormal symptoms, you should consult with your doctor so that a proper diagnosis can be made, and treatment begun.
Indeed, survival rates highlight why early diagnosis is so important with this disease. According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year relative survival rates for women based on women diagnosed with cervical cancer between 2011 and 2017, are 92 percent localized (meaning there is no sign that the cancer has spread outside of the cervix or uterus), 58 percent regional (meaning the cancer has spread outside of the cervix/uterus to nearby lymph nodes), 18 percent distant (meaning the cancer has spread to nearby organs or distant parts of the body such as the lungs or bones) and 66 percent all stages combined.
It’s important to remember that these numbers only apply to the stage that the cancer is first diagnosed and do not apply to instances where the cancer comes back after treatment or has spread since initial diagnosis. In addition, these numbers don’t take all factors into account, such as lifestyle factors, age, how well the cancer responds to treatment, etc. Finally, women who are now being diagnosed with cervical cancer may have a better outlook due to advances in treatment over time.