The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, above the vagina, where sperm travels through to the uterus. It widens during childbirth and also is where menstrual flow passes.

Every year 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and, tragically, 4,000 will die from it. However, against the backdrop of these sobering statistics is encouraging news about early detection. Women who have contracted cervical cancer who have received regular pap smear screenings have a 92% survival rate over a five-year period. In addition, the HPV vaccine given to young women before they are sexually active can help prevent the transmission of many HPV strains, the leading cause of cervical cancer.

January is Cervical Health Awareness Month and an opportunity to shed light on preventing, diagnosing and treating cervical conditions, many of which can compromise fertility.

Cervical cancer

Cancer occurs when normal cells in the cervix develop pre-cancerous changes that gradually turn into cancerous cells.

The cervix contains glandular cells in the endocervix region, closest to the body of the uterus, and squamous cells in the exocervix, nearest to the vagina. Most cervical cancers start in the transformative area, the spot where the two cell types meet. The changes occur over time as the normal cells transform to precancerous and, then, malignant cells.

Exposure to HPV, human papillomavirus, through sexual contact precipitates and increases the risk for these changes. HPV causes 70% of cervical cancers.

Most precancerous cells (mild dysplasia) do not turn into cancer and most will go away without treatment. If your dysplasia is more severe, treatment options can include cryosurgery (the freezing of abnormal cells), laser surgery, or a cone biopsy,

Still, in some women pre-cancers turn into true (invasive) cancers. Treating all cervical pre-cancers can prevent almost all cervical cancers.

Infertility and cervical cancer

Treatment for advanced cervical cancer can cause infertility and hinder your ability to carry a baby. Patients may need surgery for removal of the uterus or radiation therapy or chemotherapy, which can stop the ovaries from working. Those diagnosed should seek the advice of a fertility specialist to talk about options like egg freezing (oocyte cryopreservation) or embryo freezing if the woman has a partner. For women who have advanced disease that requires a hysterectomy, surrogacy could be an option for them in the future.

One of the most important steps women of reproductive age can take is to get regular gynecological exams and pap smears. Preventive health measures like these can go a long way to ensure your cervical health and future fertility.

Resources:

Cervical Cancer: Statistics

What Is Cervical Cancer?

Treating Cervical Cancer: General treatment information

Treatment of cervical dysplasia

HPV Vaccine