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Cervical Cancer

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Introduction

Cancer which is also known as malignancy is a dreaded disease. It is a life-threatening disease and has become very common nowadays. But you should not panic because with the advancement of science and medicine; even cancer can be treated or at least controlled if diagnosed on time. More than a hundred types of cancer with breast cancer, cervical cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer are the more common ones. Cervical cancer is a kind of cancer that occurs in the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and is connected to the vagina.

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What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is mainly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is an infection that is caused by sexual intercourse. In most cases, the body’s immune system successfully fights the virus. Still, in some instances, the virus stays in the body for several years and transforms certain cervix cells into malignant cells. You can prevent the occurrence of cervical cancer through regular screening and a vaccine against HPV infection.

There are two types of cervical cancer- Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the cells that line the cervix’s outer region, leading to the vagina. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of cervical carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma occurs in the glandular cells lining the cervical cavity. In some instances, both glandular cells and squamous cells turn into malignant cells leading to cervical cancer.

What are the causes of cervical cancer?

The causes of cervical cancer have been discussed below:

  • ● Cervical cancer is mostly caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is transmitted through sexual intercourse. HPV is the virus that causes genital warts. The two strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18.
  • ● Engaging in sexual intercourse with many partners can increase your risk of acquiring human papillomavirus or HPV.
  • ● Having sex at an early age can increase your risk of acquiring HPV and consequently, cervical cancer.
  • ● If your immune system is weakened because of some underlying health condition and you also have HPV, your chances of acquiring a cervical cancer increase.
  • ● You can acquire squamous cell carcinoma through direct or passive smoking.
  • ● Miscarriage prevention drugs like diethylstilbestrol (DES) might increase the risk of cervical cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is mostly detected in the later stages because there are no visible symptoms in the early stages. Even if symptoms occur, they are similar to menstruation or a urinary tract infection (UTI) and therefore, misleading. Some of the symptoms of cervical cancer are:

  • ● The urge to urinate frequently.
  • ● Pain while urinating
  • ● Vaginal discharge which appears or smells unusual
  • ● Unusual or untimely bleeding which may occur after sex, after menopause or in between menstrual cycles
  • ● Pain in the pelvis

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should visit a doctor, especially if the symptoms are persistent.

How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

The diagnosis of cervical cancer includes two stages. One is screening tests to prevent cervical cancer. The screening tests of cervical cancer should begin as early as 21 years of age. The screening tests include:

  • ● A Pap Pest where your doctor will scrape and brush some cells from your cervix. Then the cell specimens will be tested in the lab to see if any abnormalities exist.
  • ● An HPV DNA test where your doctor examines cells from the cervix to check the occurrence of HPV infection, leading to cervical cancer.

If your doctor suspects cervical cancer, he will conduct the following tests for thorough examination:

  • ● Punch biopsy where a sharp tool is used to pinch off samples of tissue from the cervix.
  • ● Endocervical curettage where a small spoon-shaped tool called curet is used to scrape some tissues from the cervix.
  • ● Electrical wire loop where a low voltage electrified wire is used to scrape off tissues from the cervix. This test is done using local anaesthesia.
  • ● Conization where tissues are scraped from deep layers of the cervix.
  • ● Imaging tests such as CT Scan, MRI, X-ray and Positron Emission Tomography (PET) are conducted to determine the stage of cervical cancer.
  • ● Your doctor can use special scopes to examine the bladder and the rectum visually.

How is cervical cancer treated?

Cervical cancer can be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

  • ● Surgery: If your cervical cancer is detected in the early stage, then surgery is the best option. Surgery can be of three types depending on your cancer’s size and stage- surgery to remove cancer, surgery to remove the cervix (trachelectomy)and Hysterectomy, where the entire cervix and uterus are removed.
  • ● Radiation: Radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy for treating locally advanced cancer. Radiation is also given if there are chances of a relapse of cervical cancer.
  • ● Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the treatment of cervical cancer through chemicals. Chemotherapy can be intravenous or in the form of pills.
  • ● Immunotherapy: When other treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy are unsuccessful, your doctor might suggest immunotherapy. In immunotherapy, drugs are used to strengthen your immune system to fight cervical cancer.

Risks of Surgery in cervical cancer?

During a hysterectomy,  if the uterus is removed, it is not possible to become pregnant. If only the cervix is removed, keeping the uterus intact, then pregnancy is viable. Other complications may include blood loss, infection, pain at the surgery site and damage to the intestines or bladder.

Results of treatment:

A hysterectomy can cure cervical cancer if it is detected in the early stages. It can even prevent the spread of malignant cells and a recurrence. Hysterectomy helps to stop heavy bleeding and also helps relieve pain from cervical cancer.

Radiation therapy helps in controlling the growth of cervical cancer. It is also instrumental in destroying microscopic cancer that may not be removable through surgery. Radiation therapy may cause menopause and thereby prevent pregnancy.

Chemotherapy helps treat cervical cancer in extreme stages when surgery or radiation is no more helpful. But chemotherapy can damage the healthy cells also like skin cells, stomach cells and blood cells.

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FAQ's

How Often should I Get Screened for Cervical Cancer?

Women in the age group of 21-29, should get Pap tests done thrice-a-year. Women in the age group of 30-65 should get a Pap test done once every three years.

How Quickly does Cervical Cancer Spread?

Human papillomavirus’s progression to Cervical Cancer is slow and can take even ten to twenty years.

How Long Can you have Cervical Cancer without Knowing?

Cervical Cancer does not have any symptoms in the early stages. It usually takes 10-15 years for an HPV virus to transform into Cervical Cancer.

What Stage of Cervical Cancer Shows Symptoms?

Early-stage Cervical Cancer has no visible symptoms. Symptoms like pelvic pain, pain during intercourse and vaginal bleeding appear in advanced stages.

Is Cervical Cancer Curable?

Cervical Cancer is curable if diagnosed in the early stages. But symptoms can be controlled and lifespan prolonged with palliative care.

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