As a gynecologic oncologist, I’ve had to tell women they have cervical cancer. In Tennessee, a woman is diagnosed every day, and every three days, a woman dies from this disease. 

It’s hard news for patients to hear, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Cervical cancer is entirely preventable. It just takes the right information, vaccination, and screening. 

Start by being aware of risk factors and symptoms. 

Smoking is a major risk factor because its impact on the immune system lets pre-cancerous spots on the cervix grow faster. The other big risk is a human papillomavirus infection. HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, so using a condom during sex can offer protection. 

For symptoms, the classic sign is bleeding after sex. If you experience this, see your healthcare provider right away. 

While knowing your risk and being alert to symptoms can help catch cervical cancer early, it’s even better to prevent it! The HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and recommended for patients ages 9-45. It is typically given at ages 11-12 before sexual exposure. 

Usually, HPV infection doesn’t lead to cancer, but certain strains of HPV are linked to cervical and related cancers. The vaccine introduces virus-like particles so the body produces antibodies to fight infection. 

Vaccination prevents 90% of cervical and related cancers. In the first generation of women vaccinated, we saw a 65% reduction in diagnoses. 

We also have excellent screening tools for cervical cancer. 

The cervix can be examined with a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. Pap tests show abnormal cervical cells, which are a sign of HPV infection. 

Fortunately, HPV typically takes several years to turn into cancer. That gives us a chance to treat it to prevent cancer, or at least catch cancer early before it has spread. 

You’ll need additional testing and possibly a biopsy if you have an abnormal Pap. Usually, we remove the abnormal cells, and that’s the only treatment you need. 

For early-stage cervical cancer, we can cure the disease via a hysterectomy. 

Often, this is a minimally invasive surgery, meaning smaller incisions, less risk, no overnight hospital stay, and easier recovery. 

Our goal is to ensure all women can access screening, vaccination, and treatment. 

Lack of access to care can make this disease worse. If cervical cancer is caught late, outcomes aren’t as good. Patients need more challenging treatment, such as a traditional hysterectomy that carries a higher risk of complications like bleeding or infection. 

My team wants to be part of the solution. We built our practice here so Memphians wouldn’t have to travel for expert gynecologic oncology services. 

Now, we want to encourage all women to take charge of their health and to take advantage of screening and protection against cervical cancer. Make it a point to use all the tools available to protect your health. 

Dr. John O. Schorge is a nationally known expert in gynecologic oncology and complex gynecologic surgery. He sees patients at Regional One Health’s Main Campus and East Campus. For an appointment, call 901.515.3809.