What is Cervical Cancer ?
Cervical cancer begins with a narrow opening in the uterus from the vagina known as a cervix. This cancer is considered as the most common cancer that develops in the cervix of a woman. Cervical cancer usually occurs during the midlife. Most women who are diagnosed with this cancer are in between 35-55 years of age. This cancer has mostly diagnosed in around 20% of women who are older than 65. Women who are under 20 rarely suffer from this cancer.
Types of Cervical Cancer
The type of cervical cancer is determined by the type of cell where the early genetic mutation occurred. The type also helps in determining the specific treatment for a patient. There are two main types of cervical cancer that include –
- Adenocarcinomas: This type takes place in the glandular cells lining the cervical canal. Adenocarcinomas accounts for a smaller portion of all cervical cancers.
- Squamous Cell Carcinomas: This type starts in the flat and thin cells lining the bottom of the cervix. Squamous cell carcinomas make up for a large majority of cervical cancers.
Small cell carcinomas, adenosquamous carcinomas and clear cell carcinomas are considered as the less common types of cervical cancer.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is considered as the most common cause of cervical cancer. This virus can easily transmit to another person by having a sexual contact with a HPV person. HPV virus has a number of types but not every type of HPV can cause cervical cancer. Genital warts may be caused by them and also these different types also do not result in any symptoms.
The immune system of the body helps in fighting many infections. Some diseases and medications can diminish the immune system that increases the chance of HPV infections, thus also increasing the chances of developing cervical cancer. Smoking is yet another cause that increases the chance of cervical cancer. Environmental tobacco smoke and tobacco smoking are connected with the development of cervical cancer.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer may not show any symptoms initially. Other health conditions can also cause some essential symptoms of cervical cancer. Some of the symptoms include –
- Excess vaginal discharge
- Spotting in between periods or unusual vaginal bleeding
- Foul-smelling, watery or clear vaginal discharge
- Bleeding after intercourse or pain during sexual intercourse
When tumors invade other body organs then it may result in some late symptoms that include –
- Back or pelvic pain
- Blood in the stool
- Weight loss
- Urine leakage
- Shortness of breath
- Anorexia or appetite loss
Stages of Cervical Cancer
Stage 0: Here in this stage, cervix possesses no cancerous cells. There are some biological changes that may cause the onset of cancer in the future, known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).
Stage 1 : In the first stage, the cervix still holds the cancer inside.
Stage 2 : Now in this stage, the spread of cancer is there outside the cervix in surrounding tissue or into the upper section of the vagina.
Stage 3 : The spread of the cancer is there into the tissue of the pelvis or into the lower section of the vagina.
Stage 4 : At this last stage, the cancer has spread to bladder or bowel and in its advanced case to the lungs.
Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
A naked eye cannot see any precancerous changes of the cervix and cervical cancer. Such conditions can be spotted by using tools and special tests.
- Cone Biopsy procedure can be performed.
- Pap smears is also performed for precancerous and cancer.
- The cervix is examined under magnification for observing abnormal changes and this procedure is known as colposcopy. This procedure surgically removes the tissue pieces which are then examined in a laboratory.
Some other tests are also ordered when cervical cancer is diagnosed. The spread of the cancer can be easily determined with the help of these tests. The different tests include –
- MRI of the pelvis
- Chest x-ray
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
- CT scan of the pelvis
- MRI of the pelvis
Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Health problems and the stage of the cancer help in determining a specific treatment for cervical cancer. Some of the treatment options include –
- Radiation Therapy : High-powered energy is used in this therapy for destroying cancer cells. Radiation therapy when given internally is performed by placing devices filled with radioactive material around the cervix. External beam radiation is given when radiation therapy is performed externally. These methods can also be combined together. Chemotherapy is also sometimes combined with radiation therapy for destroying or shrinking a tumor that is still remaining after surgery. Menstruating may stop in premenopausal women due to radiation therapy and may start menopause.
- Surgery : Early stages of cervical cancer are treated by surgically removing the uterus (hysterectomy). The uterus, cancer and cervix are removed by performing a hysterectomy. This is a typical option when the cancer is at its early stage and the invasion is less than 3mm inside the cervix.
- Chemotherapy : Anti-cancer drugs are used in chemotherapy for killing cancer cells. These drugs can be combined together or can also be used alone. The injection of these drugs is done into a vein that travels in the entire body and destroys all cancer cells. Radiation therapy is often combined with low doses of chemotherapy as chemotherapy helps in enhancing the effects of the radiation. Advanced cervical cancer that cannot be cured is treated by providing high doses of chemotherapy.