- Cervical Cancer is caused by a malignant tumor of the cervix, the lowermost part of the uterus.
- There may be no symptoms. In a few cases, there may be irregular bleeding or pain.
- Untreated cervical cancer can lead to death.
Untreated cervical cancer can spread to the bladder, intestines, lymph nodes, bones, lungs, and liver.
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According to the American Cancer Center, an estimated 13,000 plus new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019. Although one of the most treatable types of cancer when diagnosed before it becomes invasive, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 4,000 women tragically will tragically die in the United States this year from invasive cervical cancer.
To focus attention on cervical cancer and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the overwhelming leading cause of cervical cancer, the U.S. Congress has designated January as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
Because during its initial stages, cervical cancer does not cause any symptoms, regular screening to detect abnormal cervical cancer cells at their earliest development is essential to the prompt diagnosis and effective treatment of cervical cancer.
Key Facts Concerning Cervical Cancer
- HPV, a common virus that is passed from one sexual partner to another through sexual contact, is by far the leading cause of cervical cancer.
- Although approximately 80 percent of women will be infected with some type of HPV by the time they are age 50, only a very small percentage will develop cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer rarely occurs in women younger than 20.
- The majority of woman diagnosed with cervical cancer are between the ages of 35 and 55.
- Approximately 55 million Pap smears are performed in the U.S. with approximately 3.5 million of those Pap smears revealing some type of abnormality.
- Despite being a very treatable cancer, if diagnosed early, cervical cancer still is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S.
- While any woman is at risk for developing cervical cancer, it is most prevalent among Hispanic women followed by African American, Asian and Caucasian women.
Pap Smear Testing
The Papanicolaou test (Pap smear), which first gained recognition in the 1940s as an effective screening test for cervical cancer, is now widely acclaimed and routinely performed as part of a woman’s regular gynecologic care. There is no doubt that the widespread use of Pap smear testing has led to a significant decrease in cervical cancer deaths over the past 40 years.
During a Pap smear, which is performed in a physician’s office, the physician will use a swab to obtain cells from the cervix. The specimen is then forwarded to the lab for evaluation by cytotechnologists and, in certain situations, pathologists.
Pap smears identify pre-cancerous and cancerous cells on the cervix. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend women ages 21-30 be screened for cervical cancer every 2 years. Once a woman reaches age 30 until she is age 65, it is recommended that she undergo screening by means of a Pap smear every 3 years so long as prior exams do not reveal any abnormalities. After age 65, additional Pap smear screening is not recommended for women who have had prior adequate screening and are not at high risk for developing cervical cancer.
In the event of an abnormal Pap smear, follow-up examination and/or treatment is required. Depending upon the nature of the abnormality, the follow-up examination and/or treatment can include a follow-up Pap smear, a colposcopy (a scope that is used to visually examine the cervix), loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP), biopsy, endocervical scraping and/or a cone biopsy. The failure or delay in performing follow-up examination and/or treatment for an abnormal Pap smear can lead to a worsening prognosis.
Common Types of Cervical Cancer Malpractice
Some of the most common causes of medical malpractice claims involving the failure and/or delay in the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer include:
- Failure to follow the recommended guidelines for the performance of Pap smear testing.
- Inaccurate Pap smear test results due to an inadequate specimen.
- Inaccurate Pap smear test results due to interpretation errors.
- Failure to perform recommended and required follow-up examination and treatment for an abnormal Pap smear test.
- Failure to obtain an accurate or incomplete medical history that identifies risk factors for cervical cancer, such as HPV.
- Misinterpretation of biopsy.
The 5-year survival rate identifies the percentage of women who are alive 5 years after their cervical cancer is first diagnosed. Survival rates depend upon many factors including the stage of the cervical cancer at the time it was diagnosed and its aggressiveness based upon its microscopic cellular characteristics.
Based upon the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s 2017 Staging Manual, the 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with cervical cancer is as follows:
Stage IA 93%
Stage IIA 63%
Stage IIIA 35%
Stage IVA 16%
Although awareness as to the importance of Pap smear testing has fortunately resulted in a steep decline in deaths from cervical cancer, there are still too many women who die unnecessarily from this disease.