Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. Cervical cancer grows slowly, so there’s usually time to find and treat it before it causes serious problems. It kills fewer and fewer women each year, thanks to improved screening through Paptests. Women 35 to 44 years old are most likely to get it. More than 15% of new cases are in women over age 65, however, especially those who haven’t been getting regular screenings. When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small percentage of people, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancer cells.
Cervical cancer has four stages:
• Stage 1: The cancer is small. It may have spread to the lymph nodes. It hasn’t spread to other parts of your body.
• Stage 2: The cancer is larger. It may have spread outside of the uterus and cervix or to the lymph nodes. It still hasn’t reached other parts of your body.
• Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or to the pelvis. It may be blocking the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It hasn’t spread to other parts of your body.
• Stage 4: The cancer may have spread outside of the pelvis to organs like your lungs, bones, or liver.
Cervical Cancer Types
There’s more than one kind of cervical cancer.
• Squamous cell carcinoma. This forms in the lining of your cervix. It’s found in up to 90% of cases.
• Adenocarcinoma. This forms in the cells that produce mucus.
• Mixed carcinoma. This has features of the two other types.
Symptoms for Cervical cancer
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
• Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
• needing to urinate more often
• pain during urination
• Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
• Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
• Unusual vaginal discharge
Cervical Cancer Causes
Cervical cancer begins with unusual changes in your tissue. Most cases are linked to infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Different types of HPV can cause skin warts, genital warts, and other skin disorders. Others are linked to cancers involving the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, tongue and tongue. Most cervical cancer cases are caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the same virus that causes genital warts.
There are about 100 different strains of HPV. Only certain types cause cervical cancer. The two types that most commonly cause cancer are HPV-16 and HPV-18. The mutations tell the cells to grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread (metastasize) elsewhere in the body.
• Pap test. During a Pap test, your doctor scrapes and brushes cells from your cervix, which are then examined in a lab for abnormalities.
A Pap test can detect abnormal cells in the cervix, including cancer cells and cells that show changes that increase the risk of cervical cancer.
• HPV DNA test. The HPV DNA test involves testing cells collected from the cervix for infection with any of the types of HPV that are most likely to lead to cervical cancer.
• Imaging tests. Tests such as X-ray, CT, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET) help your doctor determine whether your cancer has spread beyond your cervix.
• Visual examination of your bladder and rectum. Your doctor may use special scopes to see inside your bladder and rectum
Cervical cancer is very treatable if you catch it early. The four main treatments are:
• radiation therapy
• targeted therapy
The purpose of surgery is to remove as much of the cancer as possible. Sometimes the doctor can remove just the area of the cervix that contains cancer cells. For cancer that’s more widespread, surgery may involve removing the cervix and other organs in the pelvis. If the cancer is only on the surface of your cervix, your doctor can remove or destroy the cancerous cells with procedures like LEEP or cold knife conization. If cancerous cells have passed through a layer called the basement membrane, which separates the surface of your cervix from underlying layers, you’ll probably need surgery.
Radiation kills cancer cells using high-energy X-ray beams. It can be delivered through a machine outside the body. It can also be delivered from inside the body using a metal tube placed in the uterus or vagina. External radiation comes from a large machine that aims a beam of radiation at your pelvis. You’ll probably get treatments, which take only a few minutes, 5 days a week for 5 to 6 weeks. Finally, you may have an extra dose of radiation called a “boost.”
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Doctors give this treatment in cycles. You’ll get chemo for a period of time. You’ll then stop the treatment to give your body time to recover. Most people have it as an outpatient (in an outpatient clinic at the hospital, at the doctor’s office, or at home).
Cervical Cancer Prevention
The key to preventing invasive cervical cancer is to detect cell changes early, before they become cancerous. Regular pelvic exams and Pap tests are the best way to do this. Experts recommend this schedule:
• Get a Pap test every 3 years once you’re 21 or older.
• Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPVinfection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
• If you’re 30 to 65, you can get both a Pap test and a human papillomavirus (HPV) test every 5 years. Beyond that age, you may be able to stop testing if your doctor says you’re at low risk.
• Have routine Pap tests. Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated in order to prevent cervical cancer. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
• Women of any age don’t need screening if they’ve had their cervix removed and have no history of cervical cancer or precancerous lesions.
• Don’t smoke. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.