Women Specific Issues
Updated on 10 March 2023
Cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. There are over 200 types of cancers in the body, each of them named after the part of the body where it started. Cancer that starts in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina- is called cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the 4th most common cancer among women worldwide. Though women across all age groups are at risk of cervical cancer, mostly it occurs in women over the age of 30. In this article, we will understand the symptoms of cervical cancer, its causes, diagnosis and tests, treatment and prevention.
It isn't clear what causes cervical cancer but there are certain factors that increase a person's risk of developing cervical cancer such as:
HPV is a group of viruses that are extremely common worldwide and are one of the most prominent causes of cancer. Two types of HPV (Type 16 & 18) cause 70% of cervical cancers. HPV is transmitted during sexual activity.
Sexual activity has the potential to expose you to HPV. Women who become sexually active at a young age have an increased risk as the cervix changes during puberty and these changes make the cervix more vulnerable to damage. Women who have multiple partners also are at an increased risk. Besides intercourse, genital-to-genital skin contact and oral sex also constitute sexual activity.
Smoking decreases the chance of an HPV infection going away on its own. A prolonged HPV infection increases your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Factors like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, cripple the immune system and puts people at higher risk for HPV infections. The immune system is critical in destroying cancer cells and slowing down their growth.
Certain bacteria like Chlamydia trachomatis, spread by sexual contact, can infect the genital tract of women. HPV and chlamydia together lead to a higher risk of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer in its early stages usually doesn't produce any symptoms. However, a more advanced cervical cancer can produce the following symptoms:
There are certain screening tests that can help identify cervical cancer and precancerous cells that may develop into cervical cancer. Screening tests such as Pap test and HPV DNA test are available for women over the age of 21.
If the doctor suspects cervical cancer, they will perform a biopsy (take a sample of cervical cells) for laboratory testing. If the doctor determines that you have cervical cancer, they may perform further tests such as X-ray, MRI, CT scan and PET and recommend the needed treatment.
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of cancer, any preexisting health conditions you may have and your preferences. Cervical cancer can be treated by surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three.
Cervical cancer in the early stage is usually treated with surgery. However, it may or may not be the best treatment for you depending on the size of cancer, its stage and whether you want to become pregnant in the future.
Using high-powered energy beams, radiation therapy helps to kill cancer cells. It can be used in combination with chemotherapy or after surgery if there’s a chance the cancer will come back. Radiation therapy can however cause menopause and problems in conceiving.
Using chemicals to kill cancer cells, chemotherapy is a drug treatment that can be given intravenously or through a pill. Chemotherapy can help treat advanced stages of cervical cancer.
There are some preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk of cervical cancer such as:
As most cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). Widespread vaccination for HPV will reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. Contact your doctor to find the right vaccine for you.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to avoid any sexual contact with people infected with HPV, use protection and insist that your sexual partner goes through an STD panel test before you get intimate.
Not only smoking destroys your lungs, but it also prevents your body from fighting infections like HPV.
Some women are at a higher risk factor for cervical cancer than others. Talk to your doctor about this and find out if you're at risk.
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