Cervical cancer is the 14th most common type of cancer in women. It begins in the cervix, which connects the vagina to the uterus. Understanding cancer is vital to preventing it, so we've put together this article.
This article will talk about cancer, what symptoms you might show if you have cervical cancer, and what to do if you suspect you may have it.
Please remember that the cervix is part of the female anatomy. So, whilst men are welcome to read this article, we have written it for the benefit of women.
What is cancer?
Before we talk about cervical cancer specifically, it's wise to understand cancer more generally. Cancer is unlike most other diseases because it isn't caused by a pathogen (such as a virus or bacteria) but by mutations in the body's already existing cells.
When a cell becomes a cancer cell, it grows uncontrollably since it will have lost its ability to self-destruct (that our cells naturally have).
Cancer becomes dangerous when cells start growing into vital organs, such as the heart or lungs. This interferes with their functions, thus preventing them from keeping the victim alive.
There are multiple types of cancer, each named after the body part they originate.
Cervical cancer occurs because the normal DNA of cells develops mutations within the cervix. The DNA in a cell explains a particular function. Healthy tissue grows and multiplies at a specified speed, dying at a set time These mutations cause cells to grow out unpredictably but don't die. A growing abnormal cell consists of an accumulation of masses (tumours). Cancers infiltrate nearby tissues and may break out and spread into another area of the body (metastasise). Cervical cancer can't be identified by any specific gene, but HPCV may play an important role. Most people have HPV which has no known cancer effect.
Types of cervical cancer
It can help you determine your prognosis or treatment. There may also be other forms of cervical cancer. Rarely can cancer appear from another cervix-associated cell?
Human papilloma virus (HPV)
In the U.S. there is 99% of cervical cancer in women whose HIV infection was previously detected. HPV is an individual virus, rather than one. They have over a hundred kinds. HPV is spread through sexual intercourse The infection is very common. One in three women is diagnosed with HPV infection within 2 months of starting a normal sex pattern and approximately 4 in 5, women may experience the virus at some stage.
What is the cause of cervical cancer?
Nearly 80% of cervical cancer cases in women are caused due to an HPV infection. HPV is one of the most common viral infections which is transmitted via sexual contact. However certain types of HPV can cause abnormally altered cell growths, which can eventually cause cervical cancer. Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV16 and HPV 18) cause 70% of all cervical cancer occurrences. This type of HPV virus has no symptoms so some women do not recognise they have the virus.
What is a cervix, and why do women have them?
The cervix is the canal that connects the uterus to the vagina.
The uterus is where infants are formed and held until they're ready to be born. And the vagina is the outer part of the female reproductive system.
The cervix is more than just a passage between the uterus and vagina. It also has self-cleaning properties that keep bacteria out of the uterus (particularly important in the early stages of foetal development) and keeps the vagina clean.
However, what are the signs of cervical cancer?
Signs of Cervical Cancer
Early warning signs of cervical cancer
Although many people don't experience symptoms until the disease has advanced there is some possibility for early detection. This includes:
Pain during sex
A woman could experience pain during sex. If this happens it is important to consult a health professional.
Vaginal bleeding outside of menstruation
The first sign of cervical cancer is bleeding- blood coming out of the vagina.
Of course, during menstruation, vaginal bleeding is expected. However, when the bleeding continues past the typical menstruation period it takes for that process to last, it may indicate that something might be wrong.
As mentioned previously, cancer is when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably. For example, cancer cells in the cervix can grow to the extent that they grow into blood vessels. The pressure could cause the vessel to burst and the blood to leak out of the vagina.
A helpful analogy would be if you were to put bricks on top of a water bottle. Eventually, the weight of the bricks would cause the plastic bottle to break. The bricks represent the cancer cells in this analogy, and the water bottle represents the blood vessel.
Some cancers in cervical tissue mimic menstrual bleeding. Patients may notice a longer or more pronounced period, of spotting and bleeding during this period.
Another common symptom of cervical cancer is pungent smelling vaginal discharge. This discharge is often darker than usual and might even contain specs of blood.
The pungent smell in the vaginal discharge of cervical cancer patients comes from the fact that the body cannot dispose of dead cells regularly. So instead of being disposed of how dead cells usually are (through defecation or urination), they fall into the vaginal discharge fluid.
Almost all dead things produce a smell- due to the oxidation of the cells. When these oxidising dead cells fall into the fluid, they cause the liquid itself to have a strong odour.
The vaginal fluid may be clear, milky, yellow or light yellow. However, changes to the colour, texture and/or scent are worth looking at. Women must monitor red tan discharge before or after menstruation and/or increased discharge.
And the third sign of cervical cancer is pain.
While this pain may (and often does) occur in the cervix itself, it's not uncommon for it to occur in other body parts such as the back, pelvis, or legs.
The cancer cells expand so much that they start pushing against the nerve endings surrounding the cervix. Damaged nerve endings will send pain signals to the brain to alert it of the discomfort.
Sometimes, this pain is constant, and other times, it has to be triggered, such as during sex or masturbation.
Some female patients complain of pelvic pain. Sometimes people are experiencing pain from back pain. It can be a pain in the upper abdomen, under the belly button.
What to do if you notice signs of Cervical Cancer
If you notice signs of cervical cancer, it's wise to ask your GP to refer you to a specialist. The specialist will be able to tell you for sure whether or not you have cervical cancer.
The specialist may look inside your vagina to see if there are signs. They may even take sample cells from inside the cervix to see whether or not they are cancer cells.
If you suspect you might have cervical cancer, you must talk to a medical professional.
Where does cervical cancer usually start?
Cancer begins on the cervix and is termed cervical cancer. The cervix links the vagina to the uterus. The uterus can be where the baby grows while conceived. Approximately 45% of females have cervical cancer.
Treating cervical cancer
When cervical cancer is discovered early, it can often be treated with surgery or chemotherapy. The procedure of eliminating the female reproductive organs has been termed a hysterectomy.
Radiotherapy is a surgical solution to the early stages of cervicofacial carcinoma. It is also used when performing surgical procedures. In advanced cervical cancers, chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment are often combined with chemotherapy and radiation.
Several of these treatments are associated with serious and long-lasting side effects, which include early menorrhagia symptoms and infertility.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
If the cancer is found early, it can usually be removed by surgery. The part of the cervix that contains the cancer cells will be removed. Sometimes, your surgeon may also remove the ovaries or fallopian tubes if they suspect they also have cancer cells.
Thankfully, women who undergo such removals remain able to become pregnant because the womb is not removed.
Unfortunately, cervical cancer surgery has a long recovery time.
If the cancer is found too late for surgery, the most common treatment is radiotherapy. During this process, high-energy radio waves kill the cancer cells. This prevents cancer from coming back and doesn't cause bleeding.
The spread of cervical cancer
If cervical cancer isn't diagnosed or treated, it will quickly spread to other tissues and organs. Cancer may also affect the vagina and the muscle surrounding the pelvis. Alternatively, they may spread outward, thereby blocking ureter tubes.
How to avoid cervical cancer
The best way to avoid cervical cancer is to regularly get PAP and HPV tests from your gynaecologist.
Your gynaecologist will be able to spot the signs of cancer before it can fully develop. Then, they will advise you on preventing cancer from developing into anything more dangerous.
It's also wise to avoid direct genital-to-genital contact. This means using a condom when you engage in sexual activity with a male.
HPV infections are extremely common, but cervical cancer is fairly rare. Consequently, it suggests only very few females are susceptible to HPV infections. Various factors have been found that may increase the risk of cervical cancer in women.
Cervical Cancer FAQ
How many people die from cervical cancer each year?
In the UK, about 850 women a year die from cervical cancer.
How many people get cervical cancer each year?
In the UK, 3,200 people a year get cervical cancer.
Which country has the highest rate of cervical cancer?
In Eswatini, 84.5 women for every 100,000 has cervical cancer.
Is Cervical cancer common amongst cancers?
Cervical cancer is the 14th most common type of cancer among females.
What percentage of women see a gynaecologist at least once a year?
Worldwide, 31% of women see their gynaecologist at least yearly.
When to seek medical advice?
You should contact your GP to see whether you have cervical cancer. Unusual vaginal bleeding may also need an examination from your doctor. It is important that cancer be caught in the early stages as it is more treatable than advanced cervical cancer.
Certain risk factors play a role in developing cervical cancer and abnormal cells. Risk factors can include a sexually transmitted infection such as the human papillomavirus which can be contracted through unsafe sexual intercourse. Therefore, using protection during sexual intercourse is also important to prevent cervical cancer.
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