Last updated date: 12-Oct-2022
Originally Written in English
Cervical cancer refers to a type of cancer that starts in the cervix cells and affects the entire cervix area. The cervix is the narrow part of the lower region of the uterus that joins the vagina. It can sometimes be called the neck of the womb.
Generally, every woman is susceptible to developing or suffering from cervical cancer. Initially, this was one of the main causes of death among women. Thanks to the invention of the screening tests as everything has now changed. With regular screening tests, the condition can be diagnosed while still in the early stage. This makes treatment easy and increases the chances of successful and permanent recovery.
Types of Cervical Cancers
Usually, physicians determine the prognosis as well as treatment based on the type of cervical cancer. Basically, there are two main cervical cancer types, including;
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Generally, most cervix malignancies are squamous cell carcinomas. This category of cervical cancer usually starts in flat-thin cells or squamous cells. These cells line the outer region of the cervix that extends towards the vagina.
- Adenocarcinoma. This is relatively a less common type of cervical cancer. It starts in the column-shaped glandular cells lining the upper part of the cervix canal.
In other cases, the two types of cells (adenocarcinoma and squamous cells) are associated with cervical cancer. However, it’s infrequent for cancer to develop in the other cells within the cervix.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer usually occurs when the normal healthy cells within the cervix acquire mutation or changes in the DNA. The cell's DNA usually consists of instructions that inform the cell what to do and how to function.
Normally, the healthy cells in the body develop and divide at a set rate and finally die in the same manner. However, the mutation informs the cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably. Even if other normal cells die, these cells will continue surviving and reproducing.
As the number of abnormal cells increases, they form a tumor or a mass. With time, the cancerous cells invade the surrounding tissues. These cells can also break off from the tumor and metastasize or spread to distant organs in the body.
In addition, other risk factors that can contribute to the risks of cervical cancer include the following;
Human papillomavirus (HPV): Strains of HPV, which is a sexually transmitted disease, are sometimes responsible for the occurrence of cervical cancer. While there are more than a hundred HPV types that can occur, approximately 10 to 13 can result in cervix cancer.
Many sexual partners: The transmission or spread of cancer-causing types of HPV mostly occurs due to sexual contact with an infected person. Therefore, there are increased chances of developing HPV that can cause cervical cancer if you have several sexual partners.
Weakened immunity: Individuals with HIV and AIDs are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer due to a weakened immune system. Also, people who have had a transplant and currently taking immunosuppressive drugs are at increased risk.
Smoking: Frequent and prolonged use of cigarettes adds to the risk of cervical cancer, particularly squamous cell type.
Pregnancy control pills: Prolonged use of certain birth control pills can sometimes contribute to cervical cancer development.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs): People with STIs, including gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and syphilis, have an increased risk of acquiring cervical cancer.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
During the early stage, most women do not experience anycervical cancer symptoms. As such, cervical cancer can go unnoticed for several months or years. Regular Pap tests or cervical smear tests are important and effective ways of preventing cancer.
Although it doesn’t diagnose cancer, it shows the cell changes that might signify the potential growth of cancer. With this, one can take the necessary actions to treat and prevent it from advancing.
As cervical cancer gradually advances, one is likely to experience signs and symptoms such as;
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
- Bleeding in between the periods
- Discomfort and sometimes pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- The vaginal discharge associated with an unpleasant odor or blood stains
- Pelvic pain
Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer diagnosis involves a few steps and procedures such as;
- Cancer screening tests
Screening tests and procedures aim to detect cancer and precancerous cells that might advance into cervical cancer. Most healthcare providers recommend starting the screening process for malignancy and precancerous conditions at 20 or 21 years.
Examples of the screening tests are;
Pap test: This involves brushing and scraping the cell within the cervix to further examine anomalies in the lab. The Pap test is capable of detecting any abnormality in the cervix. This includes the cancerous cells and changes that can contribute to developing cervical cancer.
High-risk HPV test: This involves collecting the cervical cells for tests against infections of the types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
- Diagnostic tests
If the gynecologists suspect cancer during screening tests, they will recommend additional diagnostic tests and procedures. This usually begins with an examination of the cervix using a colposcope. This is a specially designed magnifying tool that enables the medical provider to check and assess the cervix's abnormal cells.
When conducting the colposcopy tests, the doctor can obtain a small sample of the cervix cells for more lab testing. This procedure is known as biopsy and comprises punch biopsy and endocervical curettage.
Punch biopsy involves the use of sharp equipment to cut out a sample of cervix tissue. On the other hand, endocervical curettage uses a curette or a small brush to scrape out a tissue sample.
- Cancer staging tests
In case the gynecologist or doctor diagnoses cervical cancer, they can conduct more tests to identify the stage or extent. This is the key factor towards determining treatment and developing an effective plan.
Examples of cervical cancer staging tests or examinations are;
Imaging tests: These types of tests enable the physician to identify if cancer or tumor cells have spread to other parts. Some of the commonly used imaging tests include x-ray, MRI, CT scan, and PET scan.
Visually examining the rectum and bladder: This involves using a special scope to view the inside of the rectum and bladder.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
Cervical cancer treatment usually depends on various factors, including the type of cervical cancer, stage, and overall health. It can thus include one or a combination of the following treatment options;
A surgical procedure is usually recommended to treat cervical cancer while in the early stage. The type of surgery to perform depends on the tumor size, the stage, and if you wish to get pregnant and have children in the future.
The surgical treatment options can include;
- A procedure to cut out cancer or tumor only while leaving the other parts of the cervix intact
- An approach to take out the cervix and some of the neighboring tissues
- An operation to remove both the cervix and uterus
Chemotherapy is the most common treatment option for addressing cervical cancer. It uses a powerful drug to destroy the cancerous cells in the cervix. Depending on the doctor’s preference, you may receive chemotherapy medication in the form of a pill or intravenously via the vein. At times both methods can be applied.
Doctors can combine low chemotherapy doses with radiation therapy to address less progressive cancer. This is because chemotherapy helps improve radiation effects. Alternatively, they can recommend using high doses to control and manage symptoms associated with advanced cancer.
This mode of treatment uses high-energy beams, including protons or x-rays, to destroy the malignant cells. In most cases, the doctor combines radiation therapy and chemotherapy as the main treatment for early-stage cancer. Also, they can administer this treatment after surgery to kill the remaining cancer cells and prevent a recurrence.
The common ways of administering radiation therapy include;
- Internally by inserting a tool filled with radioactive content into the vagina
- Externally by targeting the radiation beams into the cervix area
- Both internal and external techniques
It’s essential to note that radiation therapy can cause menopause in women who haven’t reached the stage. Also, if you wish to get pregnant after treatment, you can consider egg preservation methods before the treatment begins.
This treatment approach focuses on certain proteins and genes contributing to the development and survival of cancerous cells. Through this, it blocks the growth of blood vessels that facilitate cancer advancement, causing the death of the existing cells.
Doctors often combine targeted therapy with chemotherapy. It’s also an effective treatment option for advanced cancer.
Immunotherapy refers to a drug treatment that boosts the body's defense mechanism to fight off cancer. The immune system can’t attack the cells since the tumor releases proteins, which enable them to go undetected by immunity cells. Therefore, immunotherapy alters this process to allow the immune system to fight cancer.
Cervical cancer is a chronic yet treatable and manageable health condition. It usually occurs when the cells in the body develop and multiply out of control. With time, these cells can spread beyond the cervix. Cancer screening is thus an essential way of diagnosing cervix cancer and preventing it from advancing.
CloudHospital is dedicated to helping all women with cervical cancers, including those at risk of developing the illness. It works with several gynecologists and specialists from renowned health facilities to diagnose, treat, manage, and prevent cervical cancer.