Cancer is the growth of abnormal cells that take over neighbouring cells and tissues and, at later stages, also spread to organs. Cervical cancers do not suddenly change into cancer. The normal cells of the cervix first gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that turn into cancer. These changes can be detected by the Pap test and treated to prevent cancer from developing.
Cervical cancer, at its early stage, usually causes no symptoms. But more advanced cervical cancers can sometimes cause symptoms, such as:
- Vaginal bleeding (including bleeding after sexual intercourse).
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
Every type of Cancer has risk factors, but they don’t tell us everything. Many people with one or more risk factors never get cancer, while others who get cancer may have had few or no known risk factors.
Major risk factor: Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
Other risk factors for Cervical Cancer include:
- Giving birth to many children.
- Having many sexual partners.
- Having first sexual intercourse at a young age.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Using oral contraceptives ("the Pill").
Cervical Cancer may be prevented to an extent by reducing the exposure to risk factors, outlined in the “Causes” section.
Cancer has different stages, each depicted by a Roman numeral from 1 to 4 (I, II, III and IV). Stage I is the first stage where the tumor is still small while at Stage IV, the patient’s condition is said to be critical because the tumor has spread to other organs of the body. Hence, a cancer’s stage refers to the tumor’s size and extent of spread. This is the simplest form of staging.
In Cervical cancer, the stage depends on whether it is confined to Cervicals (localized cancer, Stage I) or whether it has spread to other organs (metastatic cancer).
The stage decides the kind of treatment you need to get. The greater the stage number, the more complex the treatment.
Needless to say, if the cervical cancer is detected while it is still in Stage I, survival rate is higher. The rate decreases progressively with the increase in stage. Stage III is considered critical, while stage IV is, more often than not, fatal.
However, medicine is evolving everyday to meet these challenges and to keep you happy, healthy and alive!
Cervical Cancer does not usually show signs and symptoms in the early stage. Hence, regular check-ups are recommended for detection. The earlier it is found, the easier it is to treat.
- Diagnostic tests include:
- Physical exam and history
- Pap test
- Pelvic exam
- HPV test
- Endocervical curettage
Treatment options depend on the following:
- The stage of the cancer.
- The type of cervical cancer.
- The patient's desire to have children.
- The patient’s age.
Fo-ur types of standard treatment are used:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
If you have any of the symptoms, please do visit the doctor.