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HIV and Cervical Cancer

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the cervix that can be life threatening. It develops following cervical dysplasia. Cervical cancer is considered an AIDS-defining illness or opportunistic infection.


Many women do not experience any symptoms of cervical cancer, and if they do appear, they can be similar to symptoms of sexually transmitted infections. Some women experience these symptoms:

  • unusual vaginal discharge that may or may not be tinged with blood
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • bloody discharge after sexual intercourse or any activity that involves contact with your cervix
  • pain in the lower back or abdomen. It could be an achy feeling, or sharp pain

Having Pap smears on a regular basis is an important way of watching your cervical health and catching anything before it becomes serious. Check out anything unusual or different with your health care provider. It could save your life.


Cervical cancer has been linked to HPV (Human Papillomavirus), a very common sexually transmitted disease. It can develop if cervical dysplasia, caused by HPV, is left untreated. Cervical dysplasia, and eventually cervical cancer, may also develop as a result of a weakened immune system. HIV+ women with a CD4+ count of less than 200 are especially at risk for cervical cancer, and recurrences even after treatment. Smoking makes you even more vulnerable to developing cervical cancer.


Treatments vary, depending on the size and severity of the cancer. The goal is to be the most effective at removing the cancer and the least invasive at affecting the body. A cone biopsy can treat small areas by cutting a cone of cervical tissue out to remove the affected area. This is usually done in a hospital under anesthetic. Surgical approaches include partial or full hysterectomy that may be followed up by radiation, chemotherapy, or both.

Reduce Your Risk: Paps!

Reducing your risk of cervical cancer relates directly to how you look after yourself:

  • Have regular pelvic exams and Pap smears, as Pap smears detect cervical dysplasia, the condition that leads to cervical cancer
  • Regular gynecological check ups also screen for sexually transmitted infections, which if left untreated can tax your immune system
  • Avoid sexually transmitted infections by practicing safer sex
  • Quit smoking

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