All You Need to Know About Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer detected early can be treated with surgery or radiation, but becomes incurable if diagnosed after spreading to other organs.

Cervical cancer detected early can be treated with surgery or radiation, but becomes incurable if diagnosed after spreading to other organs. ©ericsphotography.Istock.com

If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.

Cervical cancer cases are increasing drastically which makes it even more important to grab all the facts about this condition, which is caused by the HPV Virus, whereby abnormal cells grow and spread in the cervix (lower part of the uterus). If detected early, cervical cancer can be cured.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Initially, there are no prominent symptoms but as the cancer grows and develops, the body displays various symptoms including unusual vaginal discharge; vaginal bleeding between periods; bleeding after menopause and bleeding or pain during sex.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is caused by a virus rather a large group of viruses called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Amongst this large group of viruses, there are 40 that cause genital infections and few have the traits to cause cervical cancer. Usually, the genital infections heal on their own but in unusual scenarios these can even become chronic and can change the structure of the cervix cells which may lead to cancer.

Symptoms of HPV are hard to find and usually heal on their own; however, some HPV infections may cause genital warts. These genital warts do not cause cancer even if left untreated. The cancerous HPV can be present in your body for a long time say years before it shows any signs or symptoms.

Who is likely to get HPV?

HPV is super common and anyone who has ever had sex, be it a man or a woman can contract the virus in his or her lifetime. Condoms, of course, protect you to a certain extent against the virus however complete protection is not possible. HPV has also been seen to have caused cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis and anal and oral cancers in males as well as females. Factors that increase the risk in women are smoking, having many children, using birth control pills, a weak immunity and those who are HIV positive.

How to Detect Cervix Cancer?

Early detection tests include Pap tests and HPV DNA Test. Pap tests are hugely successful in detecting cervical cancer as it can detect abnormal cells even before the cancerous cells start developing. The procedure involves taking a swab of the cervix, if any abnormal cells are found, the Pap test is done again followed by a colposcopy so as to determine the changes in the cells in a better way. In case of abnormal cells being pre-cancerous they will be removed or destroyed so as to prevent them from turning cancerous.

Women should start having regular pap tests after the age of 21.

HPV DNA tests are usually done in addition to a pap test in women above 30 or when an abnormality is found in a pap test, so as to check for the presence of high risk HPV Infections.

Cervical cancer is also diagnosed by a biopsy whereby cervical tissue is removed from the cervix and examined in a lab under the microscope and checked for any abnormal changes, precancerous cells, and cancer cells. Usually, it’s done during the ‘colposcopy’.

Stages of Cervix Cancer

Stage 0: Detection of cancer cells on the surface of the cervix.

Stage I: The growth of cancerous cells beyond the cervix and uterus but has not reached the walls of the pelvis or lower part of vagina

Stage II: The distribution of cancer cells to the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis.

Stage III: The cancer or tumor has spread over into the lower part of the vagina and might be blocking the urine however it hasn’t reached the lymph nodes yet

Stage IV: With the cancer spreading to the other organs or parts of the body this is the most advanced stage of cervical cancer.

Treatment for Cervical Cancer

There are 3 common treatments prescribed – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

Surgery – If the cancer is still in Stage II, surgery is done to remove the cancerous tissues or cells; however, surgeries differ from cervical conization to simple hysterectomy to radical hysterectomy (removal of uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries and surrounding tissues).

Radiation – There are 2 types of radiation therapies used – external and internal. External radiation uses high energy X-rays to kill cancerous cells in a targeted area whereas internal radiation puts a radioactive material inside the tumor. This is usually used in combination with chemotherapy and also has few side effects like low blood cell counts, fatigue, upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and loose stools.

Chemotherapy – This is usually done when the cancer has spread to other parts or organs of the body. Under this method drugs are used to the reach the cancer which has spread itself. Side effects depend upon the drugs and dosage and include fatigue, bruising easily, hair loss, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

The rate of surviving cervical cancer is approximately 68% and it hugely depends on how early the cancer is detected.

Prevention of Cervix Cancer

There are various vaccines for keeping an individual protected from the 2 types of HPV which are known to cause cervical cancer, 2 of these which are widely used are Cervarix and Gardasil, which also protect you against few other types of HPVs. These vaccines should be given before an individual becomes sexually active and the age of administration of the vaccines prescribed by the CDC is between 9 years to 26 years.

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