According to the World Health Organization, “In 2018, an estimated 570, 000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer worldwide, and about 31, 000 women died from the disease.” It is also the fourth most common cancer in women and the eighth-most common among all types of cancer.
The cervix is the lowest point of the uterus that serves as a gateway through the vagina. It can generally be divided into the endocervix or upper region which is made up of glandular cells that produce cervical mucus, and the exocervix, or lower region, which is made up of squamous cells. When mutated, squamous cells can lead to cancer and therefore cervical cancer usually starts in the lower end of the organ. Typically by stage 2 of the 4 overarching stages, cervical cancer has metastasized from the cervix to the uterus but not yet to other regions of the body. In the later stages, the cancer may block regions in the urinary system such as the bladder and ureters which lead to the kidneys, as well as spreading to the lymph nodes.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the Sexually Transmitted Infection or STI called the Human Papillomavirus, better known as HPV. In contrast to more common knowledge, there is actually a wide range of HPV strains, with as many as 200. Many strains can cause warts called papillomas. Typically the types of HPV that form warts around the genital areas are considered low-risk for cervical cancer. The virus is the dominant cause yet, according to UCLA Health, 80% of the American population currently has the disease. Not all women will develop cervical cancer because of exposure to HPV, however, certain actions can be considerable risk factors for HPV affecting the body as a cancer-inducing agent. Being sexually active from under the age of 18 both increases the chance of various interactions but also because the cancer would have had more time to develop. Sexual interactions with someone who has contracted HPV would also increase the chances. Additionally, the DNA damage and detrimental effects caused to the immune system, has made scientists consider smoking a large risk factor for cervical cancer. According to Cancer.org, “Women who smoke are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer.” Other factors such as having AIDS which weakens the immune system as well as other cervical infections including chlamydia can increase the chances of contracting HPV.
Cervical Cancer can often be avoided with regular screenings. This involves a pap smear test which should ideally begin at the age of 21 and should be taken every 3 years for early detection of abnormal cervical cells. This would hopefully reduce the chance of what commonly occurs: cervical cancer is often not discovered until its later stages where it has often metastasized to other areas of the body that are not so exposed and reachable. Large disparities exist between race and socioeconomic status. As stated by a 2012 NCBI paper called, “Race, Ethnicity, Substance Use, and Unwanted Sexual Intercourse among Adolescent Females in the United States,” “For adult women, recent data from the CDC report lifetime prevalence of rape as about 1 in 5 for African Americans (22.0%) and whites (18.8%), and 1 in 7 for Hispanics (14.6%).” African American women are reported to receive inadequate care, especially in reproductive health. The homeless population also suffers great disability in receiving screenings.
Since the vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil first developed in the late 2000s, many other more efficient HPV vaccines have been in development. Most vaccines focus on the E6 and E7 proteins that are commonly linked to Cervical Cancer as being mutated by HPV. Targeted chemotherapeutic therapy, unlike the usual chemotherapeutic drugs they have different side effects. Cediranib and Nintedanib block the growth factors of the cancer. Awareness plays a large role in changing the face of cervical cancer. Simple factors such as the lack of sexual education in schools and communities and the failure to address the stigmatized topic of reproductive health can hurt large populations of women all around the world. According to the CDC, used to be the lead cause of death for women in the US, but it has decreased since because of more regulated screenings. The American Cancer Society predicts, 14480 new cases of invasive or later stage cervical cancer will be discovered as well as 4290 women dying of this cancer. Changing the odds is for the future years in which predictions should only decrease.