What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. It occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control.
This is one of the most common cancers found in women worldwide and can often be successfully treated when found and identified early on. It is usually found in its earliest stage through a pap test, which is done during an annual pelvic exam.
Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a type of sexually transmitted disease (STD).
It is important to note that there are many types of HPV strains and not all of them cause cancer. In fact, many adults have been infected with HPV at some time and as many as 80,000,000 people are affected. Some infections go away on their own, but some do not and can cause genital warts or cervical cancer. This is why it’s important to have an annual pap test. This test can identify changes in the cervical cells before they turn into cancer.
Am I at risk for getting cervical cancer?
There are certain factors that can put you more at risk for cervical cancers. These include:
- Smoking: Cigarettes include many cancer-causing chemicals that affect organs other than the lungs. These chemicals are absorbed through the lungs and into the blood stream, which are then carried to other parts of the body.
- Chlamydia Infection: Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause pelvic inflammation. Many women do not show any symptoms and do not know they are infected unless they are tested for chlamydia during a pelvic exam.
- Long-term use of Birth Control: Research suggests that long-term use of birth control can increase a woman’s chance of cervical cancer. However, this risk begins lowering again after birth control use is stopped.
- Having a family history of cervical cancer: Cervical cancer may run in families. If your grandmother, mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances for developing the disease are 2-3 times higher than if no one in your family had cervical cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer can very from person to person. In general, they may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, including bleeding after sex or after menopause, or spotting between menstrual cycles
- Pain during sex
- Experiencing heavier or longer menstrual cycles
- Bleeding after a pelvic exam
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that contains blood
- Pain during urination
- Losing control of your bladder, as your bladder is an area of your body that cervical cancer is likely to spread
- Pain in the lower stomach or pelvis
The earlier cervical cancer is identified, the more successful treatment and remission will be.
What does treatment consist of?
The treatment for most stages of cancer include chemotherapy; radiation therapy; and surgery, such as a hysterectomy and removal of the pelvic lymph nodes. This may or may not include the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes. Depending on how severe the cancer is, you may receive more than one treatment at a time to help treat the cancer. If the cancer is caught in the early stages, there is a good chance for successful treatment and remission.