LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — According to the CDC, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. Cervical cancer is a malignant tumor of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus.

In honor of Cervical Health Awareness month, Dr. May Thomassee, OB-GYN at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Groups warns of the dangers of this nearly silent disease.

Dr. Thomassee says patients don’t always show symptoms of cervical cancer. She says cervical cancer can be detected early but it’s more commonly detected in its late stages.

“Urinary problems, bleeding outside of your normal period, those are typical late signs,” Thomassee said.

More than 99% of cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus or HPV. Dr. Thomassee says 80% of women have been exposed to it by the age of 50.

“The question is who is going to keep it around?” she said. “We know that women who smoke or are immunocompromized can keep HPV around and their bodies take a little more time to clear the virus.”

The preventable and non-hereditary disease has several risk factors. It can be best detected and prevented through pap smears and HPV testing. According to Dr. Thomassee, there are algorithms at the doctor’s disposal to calculate the risk of HPV to any specific patient based on age, history, and medical conditions.

Dr. Thomassee also recommends HPV vaccines, which protect against nine forms of HPV and is available to women as early as 9-years-old. Although pap smear testing begins at age 20, Dr. Thomassee recommends sexually-active teens or teens experiencing problems, visit their care providers.