Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix (the opening of the womb from the vagina) that is caused due to the abnormal multiplication of cells that have the capacity to invade or spread to other body parts. In most cases, long-lasting infections from certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) are the main reason for cervical cancer. There are mainly 2 types of cervical cancer – squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Cervical cancer can be healed completely if it is diagnosed and treated in early stages. The problem with cervical cancer is that it has no typical symptoms in the early stages. Vaccination against HPV infections along with Pap test for checking abnormal cells in the cervix can greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms and Signs
Most women don’t experience any symptom during the early stages of cervical cancer and therefore, women should opt for cervical smear tests periodically to reduce the risk of developing the disease. The most common cervical cancer symptoms are as follows:
- Abdominal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Bleeding and spotting between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Having menstrual periods that are heavier and longer than usual
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that may contain blood
- Pain and discomfort during intercourse
- Pelvic pain
Types of Cervical Cancer
Let us get acquainted with the different types of cervical cancer.
Squamous cell cervical cancer – In this type of cervical cancer, the flat scale-like cells present on the outer surface of the ectocervix can become cancerous.
Adenocarcinoma of the cervix – In this type of cervical cancer, the glandular cells present in the lining of the endocervix that produce mucus may become cancerous.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer symptoms and treatment are linked to the stage of the cancer. There are 4 stages of cervical cancer, but it can be treated effectively and successfully if the diagnosis is made at an early stage with the help of regular screening. Screening should be done once every 3 to 5 years.
Liquid based cytology (LCB)or Pap smear test - This is a cervical screening test that is done to identify any abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. The Pap smear test is the traditional test for cervical screening, but in recent times testing using liquid-based cytology or LBC has become more common.
HPV DNA Test - This test determines whether the patient is infected with the HPV or Human Papilloma Virus – one of the most likely causes of cervical cancer. In this procedure cells from the cervix are collected and the cell DNA is tested for identifying cervix cell abnormalities.
Biopsy - In this test a small sample piece of tissue is taken from the patient for testing. The patient is anesthetized for this test.
Colposcopy - In this test the doctor looks at the cervix through a colposcope – a magnifying instrument that is designed for examining the tissues of the vagina and cervix.
Cone Biopsy - In this test a small cone-shaped part of the abnormal tissue is taken for examination under a microscope. This test helps to indicate whether the abnormal cells are at the surface or deeper levels of the cervix.
Large loop Excision of the Transformation zone (LLETZ) - In this test a diathermy is used to remove some abnormal tissue from the cervix that is sent to the lab for checking.
Blood tests - Blood tests are done to know the number of blood cells and to check whether the cancer has infected the liver or kidneys.
Chest X-ray - X-ray of the chest is done to determine whether the cancer has spread to the lungs and heart.
CT scan - CT scan uses a series of narrow beams through the human body to provide a more detailed picture compared to the x-ray, and it can see into tissues inside a solid organ that helps the doctor to have a better idea about the size and portion of the cancer.
MRI - MRI uses magnets and radio waves to build cross-sectional images of the targeted body part. It helps to identify cervical cancer in the early stages.
Pelvic ultrasound - Pelvic ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to the targeted area to create an image on a monitor.
Treatment Options for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer treatment is based on the stage of the cancer, the patient’s age and general health. The treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a combination of these treatments.
Treatment options for early stages of cervical cancer
If cervical cancer is identified in the early stages, then it can be treated with surgery and the following procedures.
Cone biopsy - This cancer diagnosis test can also be used to remove the abnormal cells from the cervix.
Laser surgery - In this procedure a narrow beam of high-intensity light is used to destroy the cancerous cells.
Loop electrosurgical excision procedure - A wire loop with electric current cuts through the tissue to remove cells from the mouth of the cervix.
Cryosurgery - In this treatment the cancerous and precancerous cells are destroyed by freezing them.
Hysterectomy - The cancerous and precancerous portions are removed along with the cervix and uterus.
Treatment options for advanced stages of cervical cancer
Treatment options for advanced stages of cancer or invasive cancer include radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Radiotherapy - Radiotherapy or radiation therapy involves the use of high-energy X-ray beams to destroy the cancer cells. Radiotherapy functions by damaging the DNA inside the tumour cells, destroying their capacity to multiply. The radiation may be delivered externally or internally.
Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy uses chemicals and medications to destroy the cancer cells. The cytotoxic medication used in chemotherapy targets the cancer cells that could not be removed through surgery.
Stay aware of the symptoms, causes and treatments of cervical cancer and follow a few preventive measures such as having safe sex, opting for HPV vaccine and undergoing periodic cervical screening to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.
All the treatments – medicines, injections and vaccines are for general information of the reader. Please consult a doctor and get a formal prescription before taking any medicines, supplements and injections.
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