What is Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women with an estimated 11,000 women to be diagnosed this year and over 4,000 deaths. It is a cancer that starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that opens at the top of the vagina, and occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix begin to grow out of control. Treatment is often successful when the cancer is found at an early stage through yearly Pap smear tests.
Cervical cancers begin in the cells on the surface of the cervix. Two types of cells are found on the cervix’s surface; squamous and columnar with most cervical cancers coming from squamous cells. It usually develops very slowly, starting as a precancerous condition called dysplasia which can be detected by a Pap smear and is 100% treatable. Years can pass before precancerous changes to turn into cervical cancer. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smears or they have not followed up on abnormal Pap smear results.
Most all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus), this is a common virus spread through sexual intercourse. HPV has many types with some strains leading to cervical cancer; other strains may cause genital warts, while other strains may cause nothing at all.
Sexual habits and patterns can increase her risk for cervical cancer, including having sex too young, multiple sexual partners, and multiple partners who participate in high-risk sexual activities.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include: not getting the HPV vaccine, poor economic status, women whose mothers took drugs during pregnancy in the early 60’s to prevent miscarriage – DES or diethylstilbestrol, and women with a weakened immune system.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Commonly, early cervical cancer has no symptoms, however some that can occur are: vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse or after menopause, continual vaginal discharge and heavier than normal periods that last longer than usual.
Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. Individuals with cervical cancer don’t normally have issues until it is advanced and has spread. Some symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:
- Back pain
- Bone pain or fractures
- Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
- Leg pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pelvic pain
- Single swollen leg
- Weight loss
Cervical Cancer Treatment Options
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage the cancer has progressed, size and shape of the tumor, age and general health of the woman, and if she wishes to have children in the future. Early cervical cancer can be cured by taking out or destroying the precancerous or cancerous tissue. There are various surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future. A hysterectomy is not often done with cervical cancer if it hasn’t spread. DCA is also an effective tool to fight cancer as a follow up other procedures, especially in advanced stages.
Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include a radical hysterectomy taking out the uterus, surrounding tissues, lymph nodes and the upper part of the vagina or a pelvic exenteration which an extreme surgery where all of the organs of the pelvis, the bladder and rectum are removed. Radiation and chemotherapy may be used to treat cancer spread beyond the pelvis or cancer that has come back. Sometimes both are used before or after surgery.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
There are ways to prevent cervical cancer. There is a vaccine available. In June 2006 Gardasil was approved by the FDA, which prevents infection against the two types of HPV responsible for most cervical cancer cases. Studies have shown the vaccine can prevent early stage cervical cancer and precancerous lesions. It is the first vaccine targeted to prevent any type of cancer.
Practice safe sex and limit the number of sexual partners.
Get your annual Pap smear, this can detect any changes and treat any precancerous lesions before it turns into cervical cancer. The only way to prevent is to be diligent and get them done regularly.