What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus and occurs when the cells in a woman’s uterus change, connecting her uterus to the vagina. Most cervical cancers begin in cells on the surface of the uterus. This cancer affects the deeper tissues of the uterus and spreads to other parts of the body (metastasizes), often to the lungs, liver, bladder, vagina, and rectum.
Different strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, can cause a lot of cervical cancer. You can lower your risk of cervical cancer by getting screened and a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
In a small percentage of people, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancer cells. Women between the ages of 35 and 44 are more likely to get it. However, more than 15% of new cases are women over the age of 65, especially those who have not undergone regular examinations.
Types of cervical cancer
The type of cervical cancer you have can help determine your diagnosis and treatment. The main types of cervical cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cervical cancer begins in thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that cover the outside of the uterus and enter the vagina. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cervical cancer begins in the column-shaped glandular cells that line the cervical canal.
Sometimes two types of cells are involved in cervical cancer. Very rarely, cancer occurs in other cells of the uterus.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
Most women have no signs or symptoms of preconceived notions. In most women with early-stage cervical cancer, symptoms are more common. In women with advanced and metastatic cancer, symptoms may be more severe depending on the tissues and organs to which the disease has spread. The cause of a symptom can be a different medical condition that is not cancerous, so women should undergo treatment if they have a new symptom.
Any of the following may be signs or symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Spotting of blood or less bleeding between periods
- Structural bleeding is more than normal and heavy
- Bleeding after having sex, douching, or pelvic exam
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Persistent unexplained back or pelvic pain
You should inform your doctor about any of these symptoms. If these symptoms appear, it is important to talk to your doctor about other symptoms, even if they are less severe. If pre-existing cells or cancer have been found and treated, there is a good chance that cancer will be prevented or cured.
Causes of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the uterus develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. The DNA of a cell contains instructions that tell the cell what to do.
Healthy cells grow and multiply at a fixed rate, eventually dying within a set time. Mutations tell cells to grow and multiply under control and do not die. The accumulated abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells attack nearby tissues and break down from the tumor and spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
The cause of cervical cancer is not clear, but it is safe to say that HPV plays a role. HPV is very common, and most people with the virus never develop cancer. This means that other factors, such as your climate or your lifestyle choices, can also determine whether you will develop cervical cancer.
HPV can also cause other cancers in women and men. These include:
- Vulvar cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Penile cancer
- Anal cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Throat cancer
HPV is a very common infection. Find out what percentage of sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lifetime.
Risk factors for cervical cancer:
- Many are sexual partners: The greater the number of sexual partners and the greater the number of your partner’s sexual partners, the more likely you are to get HPV.
- Early sexual activity: Having sex at a young age increases your risk of getting HPV.
- Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Having other STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS can increase your risk of getting HPV.
- Weakened immune system: If your immune system is weakened by another health condition and you have HPV, you are more likely to have cervical cancer.
- Of smoking: Smoking is associated with squamous cell carcinoma.
- Exposure to abortifacient drugs: If your mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy in the 1950s, she was at risk for a specific type of cervical cancer called obvious cell adenocarcinoma.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer
Pap smear is a test that doctors use to diagnose cervical cancer. To perform this test, your doctor will collect a sample of cells from your cervical surface. These cells are sent to the laboratory to be tested for early or cancerous changes.
If these changes are found, your doctor may prescribe a colposcopy to examine your uterus. During this test, your doctor may take a biopsy, which is a sample of cells from the cervix.
The trusted source from the Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends the following screening schedule for women by age:
- Age 21-29: Get a pop smear once every three years.
- Ages 30-65: Get a Pap test every three years, get a high-risk HPV (hrHPV) test every five years, or get a Pap test plus an hrHPV test every five years.
Treatment of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer can be treated very quickly if it is contracted quickly. The four main treatments are:
- Target treatment
Sometimes these therapies are combined to make them more effective.
The purpose of surgery is to remove as much cancer as possible. Sometimes the doctor can remove the cervical area that contains the cancer cells. For more widespread cancers, surgery can remove the cervix and other organs in the pelvis.
Radiation kills cancer cells using high-energy X-rays. It can be delivered by a machine outside the body. It can also be given from inside the body through a metal tube that is placed in the uterus or vagina.
Chemotherapy involves the administration of drugs that kill cancer cells throughout the body. Doctors administer this treatment in cycles. You will receive chemotherapy for a time. You stop the treatment so your body has time to recover.
Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a new drug that works differently from chemotherapy and radiation. It inhibits the growth of new blood vessels, which helps cancer to grow and survive. This drug is often given in combination with chemotherapy.
If your doctor finds premature cells in your uterus, they can treat them. See what methods can prevent these cells from turning cancerous.
Stages of cervical cancer
Once you are diagnosed, your doctor will stage your cancer. The stage indicates whether cancer has spread and, if so, how much it has spread. Controlling your cancer can help your doctor find the right treatment for you.
Cervical cancer has four stages:
- Stage 1: The cancer is small. It may have spread to the lymph nodes. It does not spread to other parts of your body.
- Stage 2: The cancer is big. It can spread to the uterus and outside the uterus or to the lymph nodes. It still does not reach other parts of your body.
- Stage 3: Cancer has spread to the lower vagina or pelvis. It can block the ureters and the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It does not spread to other parts of your body.
- Stage 4: Cancer may have spread outside the pelvis to organs such as the lungs, bones, or liver.
Departments to consult for this condition
- Department of oncology