What you need to know about Cervical Cancer

Facts & Stats

Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix that impacts only women. The uterine cervix region is a part of the woman's uterus or womb which connects the uterus and the vagina. The condition of cervical cancer takes place when the cells of cervix start growing abnormally and progressively invade other organs and tissues of the body. An invasive cervical cancer can impact deeper tissues within the cervix. It may also spread to the other regions of the body, i.e. metastasis, especially the lungs, bladder, liver, rectum and vagina. It is a very common form of cancer among women and mostly affects population having little to no protection against HPVs or human papilloma viruses.

Symptoms

There may or may not be any symptoms associated with cervical cancer. Generally the cervical cancers that are still at their early stages do not show any symptoms. In most cases, symptoms start to develop once cervical cancer cells begin to spread to the surrounding tissues.

The major symptoms of cervical cancer include the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal bleeding occurring after menopause
  • Vaginal bleeding occurring after sex
  • Spotting or bleeding between periods
  • Heavier and longer menstrual periods than the norm
  • Other types of abnormal vaginal discharges
  • Pain felt during sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic pains
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty in urinating; pains felt while urinating
  • Presence of blood in urine
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Bleeding from rectum upon defecation
  • Pain in the rectum
  • Nausea, constipation and vomiting
  • Feelings of illness
  • A swollen abdomen

Stages

Here are the main stages of cervical cancer.

Stage 0: The first stage of cervical cancer is not invasive. Cancer cells are present only on cervix surface.

Stage I: A small portion of tumor is present which has not invaded the organs, lymph nodes, or other parts of the body.

Stage II: Tumor has now extended beyond cervix and uterus; no tumor in lower regions of the vagina and the pelvic walls.

Stage III: Cancer has spread into lower regions of the vagina as well as pelvis walls. Tumor might block the uterus but hasn’t spread to other parts of the body.

Stage IV: The most critical and advanced stage where cancer has eventually spread to rectum or bladder or other parts of the body.

Causes

Most cases of cervical cancers occur due to infections caused by some types of human papilloma viruses or HPVs. It is important to note that HPV infections are quite common and not everyone with HPV infection eventually develops cervical cancer. Among the hundreds of different types of HPVs, only some have been associated with cancers. HPVs can cause cervical cancer in women and penile cancer in men. It can also affect the anus of both men and women. HPVs mostly spread through skin-to-skin contact or sexual activity. The doctors may recommend a number of different measures to diagnose cervical cancer.

Diagnosis

Pap testing stands as the main diagnostic procedure for screening cervical cancer. In case abnormal cells are spotted on Pap smear, the medical expert may recommend a colposcopy which involves the use of a colposcope to have a closer look at the external parts of the cervix. The doctor may also carry out a biopsy if there are any abnormal regions. Endocervical curettage, also called scraping is a process which involves collecting samples of cells from interior canal of cervix. This is done to definitively conclude the presence of cancer. Other tests that can be carried out include X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, cystoscopy and proctoscopy.

Treatment

Cervical cancer is treatable especially when it is detected early. The main forms of treatment used for this condition include surgical procedures like total hysterectomy, conization, modified radical hysterectomy, trachelectomy and pelvic exenteration; radiation treatments like brachytherapy and external beam radiation therapy; chemotherapy; targeted therapy and immunotherapy. Specialized drugs like Pembrolizumab can also be used to improve the condition and encourage fast healing. The method of treatment chosen will depend on the age of the patient and whether she still wants to have children. While it is mainly the doctor who decides on the treatment procedure, the patient also has some flexibility about choosing a procedure that best suits her needs.

Prevention

Cervical cancer can be prevented totally if you know how. Vaccination against HPVs, the main triggering component of cervical cancer can serve as a powerful preventive measure. The other test that can be used for screening cervical cancer is HPV test. It is important that you get these done once in every few years. If you are sexually active, you must go for these tests more frequently. HPV vaccines can help you to completely avoid this condition and resolve it during its nascent stage. You should also include a lot of fruits and vegetables in your diet and workout regularly to minimize chances of cervical cancer.