Cervix is the lower part of the female genital tract that links the uterus to the vagina. Any abnormal growth or malignant transformation in the cervical lining cells can lead to the development of cervical cancer. The main difference between a healthy cell and a cancer cell is that the former multiplies with a set rate and dies after a certain time; whereas the latter breaks both of the rules. These cancerous cell continue to accumulate, finally they may form a mass or tumor. In long-standing or poorly managed cases, the tumor cells may break off and invade surrounding tissues. However, patients can get rid of cervical cancer, if it is treated properly, especially diagnosed in the early stages.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
The general cervical cancer symptoms include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sex and menopause or between menstrual periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
- A persistent feeling of rising pressure on the bladder or rectum
- Change in menstrual pattern, such as short cycles with long periods of excessive vaginal bleeding
Advance cervical cancer symptoms include:
- Continuous pelvic and back pain
- Leakage of urine or stool in to vagina
- Generalized weight loss
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer tends to begin when the healthy cells converts into an abnormal cell which is mainly due to genetic mutation. Although the exact cause for cervical cancer is still unclear but there are many risk factors that may make you vulnerable to it.
Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer
- HPV infection: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexual transmitted disease, is considered as the most important factor that causes cervical cancer. Women who have started sex at early ages (like before 18 years of age) or have more than one sexual partners are easy to catch this sexually transmitted disease.
- Smoking: Women who smoke more than two times every day are at higher risk of having cancer than women who don’t smoke.
- Weak immune system: Women with weak immune system are more likely to develop cervical cancers.
- DES exposure: Women who have used DES (Diethylstilbestrol) during their pregnancy or expose to DES more than 8 years are highly prone to develop cervical cancer. If you have exposed yourself to DES, you must tell your doctor.
- Other risk factors: Other risk factors include diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, age (more than 40 years) etc.
How to Diagnose Cervical Cancer
If you think you have shown some cervical cancer symptoms, then there are a lot of tests to go through in order to confirm it. The following are the common ones:
1. Pap Test
Pap test is the routine screening test that deals with the detection of abnormal cells on the smear. It is considered as the most important tool in finding and treating cervical cell changes. Pap test schedule is based on your age and specific conditions, so one may have to consult the doctor first.
2. Tests for Definite Diagnosis
The doctor will take your history and perform physical exams and other tests make a definite diagnosis.
- Cervical biopsy and colposcopy: Locate the presence of cancer cells on the surface.
- Endocervical biopsy: Confirm the presence of malignant cells within the cervical canal.
- Cone biopsy: Remove cervical tissue for study and examination purpose.
3. Tests to Confirm Cancer Stages
These tests include:
- Chest x-ray for lung check
- Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy
- C T scan
- Ultrasound to check internal tissues and organs
- PET scan to check the spread range of cancer cells
Treatments for Cervical Cancer
Hysterectomy, in which uterus is removed initially to treat the early stages of cancer. There are two distinct procedures in the medical practice; which are:
- Simple hysterectomy: Performed when the cancer is at a very early stage and invasion is less than 3 millimeters into the cervix.
- Radical hysterectomy: It is the standard surgical treatment when there's invasion greater than 3 millimeter into the cervix and involves the removal of cervix, uterus, part of vagina ad lymph nodes of that area.
Radiation utilizes high power to kill cancer cells. It is performed by two methods
- Externally by using beam radiation
- Internally by placing devices filled with radioactive material near the cervix
Radiation therapy can be given alone or in combination with chemotherapy, before surgery to reduce the size of the cancer or tumor. Side effects of radiation include sudden stoppage of the menstrual cycle and women may enter into menopausal phase.
Chemotherapy uses chemotherapeutic drugs to kill malignant cells and can be delivered via single drug or a combination of drugs. Chemotherapeutic drugs are injected through veins which then travel with the blood, killing cells. Low doses of chemotherapy are often applied with radiation therapy because chemotherapy may enhance its effects. For advanced cervical cancer higher doses are injected. Side effects of chemotherapy include infertility and early menopause in premenopausal women.
4. Living With Cervical Cancer
- Get enough information
At the time of consultation with your doctor, make sure to ask all your questions and queries. You can make notes before any appointment with the doctor or you can take your friends or family members for assistance.
- Seek help from family and friends
Friends and family may provide the much needed care and support while you are fighting cancer. It helps to regain your energy that you talk with your familyand friends whenever depressed or alone, or ask them for support in daily tasks such as cooking and child care helps.
- Join support group
People who have already suffered from this disease and came up as a survivor may serve as motivational inspiration and for you to fight your illness. You should talk to them in order to take some recommendations and supports.
- Spend some time alone
Spending time with your friends and family is good but don't forget to give yourself some time. Spend that time in listening music, writing any article, gong for a walk, this will relax you and gives you strength to fight against cancer.
Here is an informational video to learn more cervical cancer: