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Cervical Cancer: Why Doctors Are Finding It in Later Stages

Jan 4, 2023

In a recent study, researchers discovered a steady increase in stage 4 cervical cancer cases in the United States from 2001 to 2018, even though the disease has declined over the past 20 years. Understanding this surprising trend can help ensure you take the appropriate steps to protect yourself from this often fatal disease. 

Understanding cervical cancer

“Cervical cancer is a type of cancer in the cells of the cervix, the lowest part of the uterus that connects to the vagina,” said Lauren Krill, M.D., a gynecologic oncologist at Inspira Medical Center Mullica Hill. “The main cause of cervical cancer is long-term infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).” 

At least half of sexually active people will contract HPV at some point during their lives. HPV can cause warts on the genitals or the surrounding skin, but many people with HPV don’t develop any symptoms. 

Most of the time, HPV goes away on its own within two years. However, HPV can lead to more dangerous conditions, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus or cervix. Cancer can take many years to develop after a person gets HPV, and there’s no way to determine who will develop serious health problems after contracting HPV. 

Stage 4 cervical cancer is diagnosed when cervical cancer metastasizes, or spreads, to other parts of the body. Stage 4 cervical cancer has two subclassifications: 

  • Stage 4A, cervical cancer that has spread to organs within the pelvic area
  • Stage 4B, cervical cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs outside the pelvic area 

Symptoms of stage 4 cervical cancer are widespread and may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness or dizziness 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Spitting up blood 
  • Bone pain or fractures
  • Irregular bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse 

Treatment for advanced cervical cancer is aggressive and involves chemotherapy and radiation. Palliative care options are also available. “Stage 4 cervical cancer that has spread to another part of the body has about a 17 percent survival rate,” said Dr. Krill. “Seeking support from a compassionate gynecologic oncology specialist can help you determine the best course of action.” 

Getting screened can save your life

“When cervical cancer is detected early on, it’s highly treatable,” said Dr. Krill. “Screening tests and the HPV vaccine can help ensure cervical cancer is found early or prevent it altogether.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends pap tests for women over 21 every three years to look for precancerous cells on the cervix. 

Routine HPV tests check for HPV in your cervix and can help ensure early detection. If discovered and treated in a timely manner, cervical cancer can have a five-year survival rate of over 90 percent. 

Regular health screenings save lives. Even if you’re young and have no health concerns, putting off routine appointments and screenings can have dire consequences. Free cancer screenings are available to those who are eligible, including pelvic exams and Pap tests.

Inspira offers OB/GYN and Midwifery services in Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, and Camden counties. Request an OB/GYN appointment today.

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.


Topics: Cancer Care, Women's Health, Obstetrics & Gynecology