Cervical cancer: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Cancer is a group of abnormal cells that grow and divide uncontrollably thereby invading nearby tissues. Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix. The cervix is a hollow tube that connects the uterus to the vagina.
Cervical cancer is caused by some strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). It is a sexually transmitted infection. The risk of developing cancer through HPV virus can be decreased through screening and vaccination.
There are different strains of HPV low-risk types that can cause skin warts, genital warts, and other skin disorders. High-risk strains (HPV 16 & 18) are more likely to cause cancers involving the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, tongue, and tonsils.
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Taking birth control pills
- Early-onset of sexual intercourse (below 16years)
- Having sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Family history of cervical cancer
- Being immunocompromised (eg HIV patient, and organ transplant patients)
- Cigarette Smoking
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
You might not notice symptoms of cervical cancer until later in the course of the disease. They may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods, or after menopause.
- Vaginal discharge that may have a foul-smelling odor.
- Pelvic pain or pain with sexual intercourse.
See your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms for proper checkup
- Cervical screening: Regular screening is the best way to identify abnormal changes or precancerous tissue in the cells of the cervix early. Screening includes cervical cytology (Pap smear) and, for some women, testing for human papillomavirus (HPV). Women from ages 21 to 29 are screened every 3 years. Women from ages 30 to 65 are to only Pap smear every 3 years or get a combination of Pap test and HPV test every 5 years. For women who are 65 or over, only those who have not been screened since they were 50, have had recent abnormal tests or have never been screened before are still eligible for screening.
- BIOPSY: In the case of an abnormal screening test result, further testing is carried out to determine if cancer cells are actually present. Sometimes, only repeat testing is needed. In other cases, colposcopy and cervical biopsy (Punch biopsy) whereby you use a sharp object to take small samples of cervical tissue, helps in confirming the diagnosis. It may be recommended to find out how severe the changes really are. If the results of follow-up tests indicate high-grade changes, treatment may follow to remove the abnormal cells. There will also be regular follow up test and screening after treatment.
Staging of Cancer:
If your doctor discovers that you have cervical cancer, certain imaging studies may be done. This helps to look inside the body to see if and where the cancer has spread to, which will further enable your doctor to decide on a treatment plan.
Some imaging studies like
- Chest x-ray: x-ray of the chest may be done to see if the cancer has spread or metastasized to your lungs.
- Computed tomography (CT): CT scans may be done to monitor the cancer spread to other organs or lymph nodes.
- Positron emission tomography (PET scan)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): MRI scans look at the soft tissue parts of the body sometimes better than other imaging tests, like a CT scan.
Some ways by which Cervical cancer is treated includes:
- Surgery: Doctors cut off the cancerous tissue in an operation. Alternatively, hysterectomy can be done where the uterus or womb is removed. This results in infertility (inability to have children). Radical trachelectomy can also be done. In this procedure, there is removal of the cervix and the upper part of the vagina but not the body of the uterus.
- Radiation: High-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill the cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Medications are given either intravenously(through the veins) or orally to shrink or destroy the cancer cells.
Reduce your risk for cervical cancer by:
- Cervical screening: Regular screening is the best way to identify abnormal changes or precancerous tissue in the cells of the cervix early.
- Vaccination: Receiving HPV vaccine may reduce your risk for cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. HPV vaccine protects against 4 strains of HPV, including the 2 strains responsible for the majority of cervical cancers (HPV 16 & 18)
- Practice safe sex by using condoms and decreasing the number of sexual partners you have.
- Quit smoking.
DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical care, diagnosis, or treatment. it is intended for informational purposes only. Ensure you seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or in the case of a medical emergency.