Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers to affect women worldwide, but also one of the most misunderstood. We separate myth from fact and dispel a few important misconceptions about this very real health threat.
Myth #1: Cervical cancer is a death sentence.
Being diagnosed with cervical cancer doesn't mean your life is coming to an end. Although cancer of the cervix can be difficult to overcome, this doesn't mean it's incurable. The earlier the cancer is detected, the higher your chances of survival. This makes regular screening extremely important.
Myth #2: The more tests, the better.
Many women are under the impression that, when it comes to medical tests, more is better. This isn’t always the case. Extra tests mean additional costs and this may cause unnecessary concern. It can also leave you with side effects and lead to health complications.
According to the American Cancer Society, women ages 21 to 29 years should get a Pap test every three years, and women ages 30 to 65 years should get a Pap test and an HPV test every five years, or get just the Pap test every three years.
Myth #3: Testing positive for HPV means you'll develop cervical cancer.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) is an infection that can cause changes in the cervix, which may lead to cervical cancer. It’s a very common virus in both men and women, and is easily passed on through sexual intercourse.
If you test positively for HPV, this means that you have the virus in your system. This doesn't mean that you have or will get cervical cancer. However, contracting the virus does increase your chance of developing cell changes in the cervix, which could cause cervical cancer over time.
Myth #4: no symptoms, no cancer.
There are no symptoms linked to the early stages of cervical cancer, but once the cancer becomes invasive, you may experience:
- Pain in the pelvis.
- An unpleasant vaginal discharge.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding.
As the cancer becomes more invasive, you may also encounter leg and back pain, swelling of the leg, bleeding from the rectum, and blood in the urine.
Once the cancer has spread throughout and outside of the pelvic region,you may experience all of these symptoms, as well as the coughing up of blood.
Myth #5: Cervical cancer only affects older women.
Cervical cancer can affect women of any age. While it’s rare for a woman to develop cervical cancer in her 20s, anything is possible and prevention is better than cure. This is why going for regular screenings from the age of 21 is extremely important.
Myth #6: Cervical cancer can’t be prevented.
In most cases, cervical cancer can be prevented, and one of the best ways to do this is with regular screenings.
Another way to prevent cervical cancer is to prevent contracting HPV in the first place. Avoid the virus by making healthier lifestyle choices: avoid smoking, limit your number of sexual partners, and practice safe sex.
Myth #7: Only promiscuous women get cervical cancer.
Anyone who has had sex, even if it was with just one partner, is at risk for cervical cancer. This is because HPV, the sole cause of cervical cancer, is spread easily through sexual contact, regardless of the number of sexual partners. While having more than one sexual partner is a risk factor for the disease, it isn’t the only risk factor in the development of cervical cancer.
Myth #8: Cervical cancer is contagious.
HPV that causes cervical cancer is transmitted through sexual contact. This infection is highly contagious. Cancerous cells themselves, however, cannot be spread from one person to another.
Myth #9: Cervical cancer runs in the family.
There's no proven inheritable link for cervical cancer. Unlike most other cancers, your genetic makeup doesn't affect your chances of developing this disease.
Cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted disease HPV. Because your DNA doesn't play a role, you can prevent cervical cancer altogether.
Myth #10: You can't develop any other cancers in the reproductive tract once you’ve had cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer patients are also at risk for vaginal, vulva and anal cancers as these can also be caused by HPV. Despite receiving treatment, there’s also a risk for uterine cancer if you still have your uterus. Your ovaries can also develop tumours if they’re still present after treatment.
Even if you’ve completed treatment for cervical cancer, and have been given the “all clear” by your doctor, you still need to go for regular screenings and medical check-ups for the rest of your life.