Cervical cancer is relatively rare, accounting for less than 1% of all current cancer diagnosis. The American Cancer Society predicts that 13,800 new cervical cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2020.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, the small opening of the vagina to the uterus. There is a healthy pink color to the typical ‘ectocervix’ (the part of the uterus reaching into the vagina). And it is covered with flat thin cells called squamous cells. Another type of cell called a columnar cell makes the “endocervix” or cervical canal. The area where these cells meet is called the transformation zone (T-zone) and is the most likely location for abnormal or pre-cancer cells to develop.
The cervix has two parts, and two different cell types cover it.
- The endocervix is the opening of the cervix that leads to the uterus. Glandular cells cover it.
- The exocervix (or ectocervix) is the cervix’s outer part. Squamous cells cover it.
The place where these two groups of cells meet in the cervix is called the transition zone. The exact location of the transition zone changes as you grow older and as you give birth. Most cervical cancers begin in the transition zone cells.
Who’s At Risk for Cervical Cancer?
A risk factor is anything that could raise the chance of developing a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer is difficult to understand. But risk factors may make a person more likely to have cancer. Most risk factors may not be under your control. But the others may be things that you can change.
Risk Factors for Cervical Cancer Include The Following:
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Have sex at a young age or have multiple partners
- HIV or weakened immune system
- Long-term use of birth control pills;
- Three or more full-term pregnancy
- First full-term pregnancy before the age of 17
- No routine Pap tests
- Personal or family history of cervical cancer;
- Diagnosis with past chlamydia
- Excessive weight
- Your mother took DES (diethylstilbestrol) when pregnant with you.
Speak to your healthcare provider about your risk factors for cervical cancer and what you should do about them.
Early-stage cervical cancer usually does not produce signs or symptoms.
Signs and Signs Of Advanced Cervical Cancer Include:
- Vaginal bleeding after sex, between periods, or during menopause;
- Watery, bloody discharge of the vagina that could be heavy and have a bad smell.
- Pelvic discomfort or pain after intercourse;
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer occurs when healthy cells develop a genetic change (mutation) that transforms into abnormal cells. While it is not clear what causes cervical cancer, the human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role.
The type of cervical cancer helps to assess prognosis and treatment. The main types of cervical cancer are the following:
- Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells), lining the cervix’s outer portion and passing into the vagina.
- Adenocarcinoma starts in the column-shaped glandular cells which line the cervical canal.
Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?
Cervical cancer most commonly begins with changes in pre-cancer cells. You should take steps to help prevent changes that lead to cervical cancer. To help reduce the risk:
- Do not get infected with HPV.
- Get the HPV vaccine.
- Any time you have sex, use condoms, from the beginning to the end.
- Don’t smoke.
- Stay at a healthy body weight.
Regular screening for cervical cancer is a proven way to prevent this cancer.
How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?
Healthcare providers find cervical cancer throughout a routine Pap examination. Your health care provider will ask you about your health history, conditions, risk factors, and family history of illness. Your physician will conduct a physical exam and a pelvic exam.
You Can Also Have One Or More Of The Following Tests:
- Checking of Pap and HPV
The only way to confirm cancer is by a biopsy. Small pieces of tissue are collected from the cervix and tested for cancer cells.
After the diagnosis of cervical cancer, you are likely to need another testing. This helps health care providers learn more about cancer. They will help to determine the stage of cancer. The stage is how far and how far cancer has spread (metastasized) to your body. That’s one of the most important things to remember when deciding how to treat cancer.
After your cancer diagnosis, your health care provider will speak to you about what stage the treatment will take. Be sure to ask your healthcare professional to clarify your cancer stage to you in a way that you can understand.
How Is Cervical Cancer Treated?
Your medical therapy depends on the characteristics of cervical cancer; you have your tests and the cancer stage results. You might also need to think about whether you want to be able to have children. The goal of treatment may be to cure, control cancer, or help to ease cancer-related problems. Speak to a doctor about your treatment choices. The goals of the treatment and what the risks and side effects may be.
The types of cancer therapy are either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or regulate cancer cells in a single area. Surgery and radiation are local therapies. Systemic therapy destroys or controls cancer cells that may have spread around your body. When taken with a tablet or injection, chemotherapy and targeted treatment are systemic therapy. You can have only one medication or a combination of treatments.
Doctors may treat Cervical Cancer with:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
Speak to the health care providers about your medical decisions. Please make a list of questions. Think of the advantages and possible side effects of each option. Some of the treatments will affect your ability to have children in the future. Speak to the health care professional about your concerns before you make a decision.
What Are The Side Effects Of Treatment?
Cancer therapy, such as chemotherapy and radiation, can destroy normal cells. This can cause health problems like hair loss, mouth sores, and vomiting.
Speak to the healthcare professional about the side effects you may have and how to treat them. You can do things and medicines that you can take to help prevent or control side effects.
The Bottom Line
If you have tried a few therapies and haven’t worked, or cancer has spread, ask the doctor for a clinical trial. These are often ways for people to explore new medications or treatments that are not available to all. Your doctor may tell you whether one of these trails might be a perfect fit for you.