What To Know About Your Cervical Cancer Risk

Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic.
Broadcaster Erin Andrews, best known for her NFL sideline reporting for Fox, revealed this week that, for the past few months, she has been dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer. After undergoing surgery in October and another procedure in November of last year, she told NFL-focused news site The MMQB that she would not need radiation or chemotherapy. That's great news, and Andrews' experience sheds light on a too-often-ignored form of female cancer.

Unfortunately, there aren't always obvious signs of cervical cancer in the early stages. For many women, an abnormal result from a routine pap test is the first sign that something's off. During more advanced stages, you may experience pain during intercourse, vaginal bleeding (that's not your period), or blood in your vaginal discharge, according to the Mayo Clinic. At that point, absolutely see your doctor.

Luckily, cervical cancer is highly preventable: Because the vast majority of cervical cancers are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the best method of prevention that we have is the HPV vaccine. And it's important that women and men receive the vaccine around age 11 (ideally, before they begin having sex). On top of that, getting your routine pap test (recommended once every three years for young, generally healthy women) and using condoms helps can help keep you safe and healthy.

These are crucial health moves, because not all people who get cervical cancer are as relatively lucky as Andrews — in fact, a study released this week found that the death rate from cervical cancer is higher than previously estimated, and Black women are significantly more likely to die from it than are white women. However, it's important to remember that, as deadly as it can be, cervical cancer remains relatively rare: According to the CDC, about 12,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, and about 4,200 women died from cervical cancer in the same year.

You're more likely to develop it if you smoke, have a weakened immune system, or have more sexual partners because this increases your odds of an HPV infection. And, of course, if you have any concerns, check in with your doctor.
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