Cervix is the neck of the uterus. It is a strong, muscular tube-like structure that opens into the vagina a little. It consists of glands that produce a thick liquid called the cervical mucus. This prevents harmful foreign objects from entering the uterus. Cervical cancer on the other hand is the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix. It is the fourth most frequent cancer in women.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and it progresses slowly. It usually affects women between the mid-50s. Although the changes might be visible between ages 20-30 but due to the progression that is slow. The HPV vaccine is available for prevention against HPV.
CAUSES / RISK FACTORS
Cervical cancer results from the multiplication of abnormal cells in the cervix. This is mainly associated with the infection of Human papillomavirus
- HPV: A sexually transmitted virus that constitutes the major cause of cervical cancer.
- Having multiple sexual partners: Sexual contact increases the chance of getting infected with an HPV. Women with multiple sexual partners have a higher chance of developing cervical cancer
- Use of birth control pills: Long term use of family planning pills increase the risk of cervical cancer
- Sexually transmitted diseases: STDs like gonorrhea and chlamydia increases the chances of getting cervical cancer
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER
The early stages of cancer are always symptomless. However, as it progresses, symptoms start showing.
The most common symptoms are:
- Bleeding between periods
- Experiencing bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pelvic Pain
- Bleeding in post-menopausal women
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
The most appropriate type of treatment is mainly dependent on the size of the tumor and the spread of the cancer. A small surgical procedure (conization) can be caried out if the tumor is discovered at a very early stage. However, if the tumor has already spread to the surrounding tissue, doctors usually recommend a surgery to remove the entire womb (a hysterectomy). During this process, the lymph nodes are removed in a wide area around the womb too. Radiotherapy might also be considered. A radiotherapy is still an option if the tumor can no longer be removed through surgery. In some patients, it can be combined with chemotherapy.
Surgery For Cervical Cancer
The early stage is typically treated with surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy). A hysterectomy can cure early-stage cervical cancer and prevent a recurrence. But removing the uterus makes it impossible to become pregnant.
- Simple hysterectomy: The cervix and uterus are removed along with cancer. A simple hysterectomy is usually an option only in very early-stage cervical cancer.
- Radical hysterectomy: The cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and lymph nodes in the area are removed with cancer.
Minimally invasive surgery may be an option for early-stage cervical cancer.
Surgery that preserves the possibility of becoming pregnant can also may be an option, if there is a very early-stage cervical cancer without lymph node involvement.
This therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used alone or with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
Ways of carrying out Radiation Therapy
- Externally, by directing a radiation beam at the affected area of the body (external beam radiation therapy)
- Internally, by placing a device filled with radioactive material inside the vagina, usually for only a few minutes (brachytherapy)
- Both externally and internally
Premenopausal women may stop menstruating and begin menopause as a result of radiation therapy. If you might want to get pregnant after radiation treatment, ask your doctor about ways to preserve your eggs before treatment starts.
Chemotherapy uses medications, usually injected into a vein, to kill cancer cells. Low doses of chemotherapy are often combined with radiation therapy, since chemotherapy may enhance the effects of the radiation. Higher doses of chemotherapy are used to control advanced cervical cancer that may not be curable.
PREVENTION OF CERVICAL CANCER
The goal of prevention is to prevent the infection of HPV and prevention of invasive cancer.
- Abstinence from sex is recommended as one way to prevent the transmission of HPV.
- Likewise, barrier protection, such as condom use, may reduce the risk of HPV infection, although this has not yet been fully proven.
- Vaccines to protect women from cervical cancer and men from HPV are now available.
- Get a Pap test to check for cervical cancer every 3 years once youre above 21 years.
- Women between 30-65, can get both a pap smear test and human papillomavirus test every 5 years.
- If you are sexually active and have a higher risk for STDs, get tests for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis yearly, HIV test at least once, for someone who is sexually active and at risk.