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 a 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 usually 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.