All You Wanted to Know About Cervical Cancer

Table of Content

What is Cancer?

The body is made up of cells which grow and die in a controlled way. Sometimes cells keep on growing without control, causing an abnormal growth called a tumour. A tumour can be benign (harmless). Premalignant (if left untreated, may lead to cancer} or malignant (progressively worsens and can result in death).

Cancer is a malignant tumour.

What is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects the uterus to the vagina Cervical cancer occurs when the normal cells in the cervix begin to grow in an uncontrolled, abnormal manner and produce tumors.

What are the Possible Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer?

Below mentioned are the factors that are known to increase the risk of cervical cancer in women.

  • Human papillomavirus

Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are linked to a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is very common and can be passed on through close skin-to-skin contact, usually during sex.

  • Sexual activity: Early onset of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, failure to use a condom etc. increases the risk.
  • Family history: A family history of cervical cancer increases the risk.
  • First full-term pregnancy at a young age: A first full-term pregnancy in women younger than 17 years old nearly doubles the risk later in life.
  • Multiple full-term pregnancies: Women with 3 or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk.
  • Oral contraceptives: Taking oral contraceptives for a long time (5 or more years) increases the risk.
  • Chlamydia infection: Women with the past or current Chlamydia infection have a higher risk.
  • Smoking: Women who smoke are at higher risk.
  • Diet and weight: Some studies have shown that diets low in fruits and vegetables, as well as being overweight, may place women at increased risk.

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Women cervical cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until cancer spreads into nearby tissue.By then, the most common symptoms are:

  • Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
  • Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Low back pain

In case of any symptoms along with evidence of risk factors, consult the doctor.

How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

In case of any symptoms related to cervical cancer, the doctor will try to find out what's causing the problems.

The following tests may be done:

  • Pap smear:

The doctor uses a special stick or brush to take a few cells from inside and around the cervix and vagina which are viewed under a microscope to check if they are abnormal.

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) test:

  • Cells are collected from the cervix and checked to find out if an infection is caused by type of HPV.
  • Colposcopy: 

A procedure in which a colposcope (a lighted, magnifying instrument) is used to check the vagina and cervix for abnormal areas. Tissue samples may be taken using a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) and checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

  • Biopsy

If Pap smear shows abnormal cells, the doctor may do a biopsy. A sample of tissue is removed from the cervix and viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.

There are also some general tests that need to be done to diagnose and/or confirm cervical cancer such as clinical examination, blood tests, ultrasound, CT scans, MRI etc.

The doctor will decide which tests are necessary; all of them may not be done.

What are the Treatment Options for Cervical Cancer?

Various therapies are used for the treatment of cervical cancer for e.g. removal of tumour (surgery), killing cancer cells with drugs (chemotherapy} or radiation (radiotherapy}. Depending on the size and spread of cancer, treatment can include any of these therapies or a combination.

The doctor will decide on the treatment, depending on the type and severity of the disease and the condition of the patient.

How can the Risk of Cervical Cancer be reduced?

The risk of cervical cancer can be reduced by:

  • HPV vaccine: Two HPV vaccines are available that can protect against HPV - the virus that plays a role in causing most cervical cancers. Consult the doctor for more information.
  • Routine Pap test: It is recommended that women above the age of 21years should undergo routine Pap tests to detect abnormal cells early.
  • Limiting the amount of sexual partners can decrease the risk. Avoid early onset of sexual activity.
  • Safe sex: Condoms provide some protection against HPV. Men who use condoms are less likely to be infected with HPV and to pass it on to their female partners.
  • Smoking: Avoiding or quitting smoking
  • Good lifestyle & healthy Diet: Eating a healthy balanced diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grain food along with a healthy lifestyle.
  • Weight: Achieving/maintaining desirable weight
  • Exercise & being  active: Improves  physical & emotional health

Do’s and Don’ts

Do’s

  • HPV vaccination
  • Regular Pap tests
  • Safe Sex

Don’ts  

  • Early onset of sexual activity
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Smoke & drink

For more information, please consult your doctor.

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Basic understanding of cervical cancer including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and prevention is explained in this article.