The cervix is the lower region of the uterus – connecting the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer starts develop in the cells at the surface if the cervix. These changes in the cells happen gradually and can be detected through a Pap test.
During the early stages of the disease, it rarely causes symptoms. However, as cervical cancer progresses, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Heavier and longer menstrual periods
- Vaginal bleeding – after sexual intercourse or between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain
A Pap test can detect abnormal changes of the cells in the cervix which can cause cervical dysplasia, a precancerous condition. It causes no symptoms but needs to be treated immediately to stop it from developing into cervical cancer.
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the cancer stage at diagnosis. The stage of cancer is determined through the size of the malignant tumor, the extent of its growth into the cervix and is the cancer has spread beyond the cervix. Often, the treatment options for cervical cancer include one or a combination of the following: radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.
In the precancerous condition, cryosurgery is done to kill the abnormal cells. During cryosurgery, liquid nitrogen is applied on the cervix. This freezes the abnormal cells and as a result, the cells are eradicated. A watery brown discharge may be experienced after cryosurgery. This could last for a few weeks. Cryosurgery is usually indicated for carcinoma in situ or stage 0 cancer. Laser treatment is another option for cervical dysplasia which is performed to vaporize the abnormal cells.
Conization is a procedure where a small tissue is removed from the cervix. It can also be used to treat women with stage 1A of cervical cancer who want to maintain their fertility.
Hysterectomy is usually suggested to women with cervical cancer. It involves removing the cervix and uterus but not the fallopian tubes and ovaries. It is the surgical procedure recommended for early stages of cervical cancer. Meanwhile, radical hysterectomy is the technique recommended for advanced stage of cervical cancer. In radical hysterectomy, the uterus and its adjoining ligaments, cervix, a portion of the vagina and sometimes some pelvic lymph nodes will be removed.
For young women who plan on having children in the future, trachelectomy is an option. This procedure removes the upper portion of the vagina and the cervix while the uterus is untouched and left in its place. In some cases, some lymph nodes surrounding the area are also removed. Trachelectomy allows women to carry pregnancy even if surgery has been done but there’s an increased risk of miscarriage.
For cases of recurrent cervical cancer, pelvic exenteration may be suggested by the physician. During pelvic exenteration, the cervix and uterus are taken out. The vagina, rectum, bladder and parts of the colon may also be removed depending on how severe the spread of cancer is.
After surgery, it will be determined if further treatments are needed such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In some cases, surgery alone can eliminate cancer, that is, if all cancer cells were successfully removed and if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.