Cervical Cancer: What Women Should Know about It
Cervical cancer is one of the five gynecological cancers affecting women, right beside vaginal, vulvar, ovarian and uterine cancers.
Cervical cancer is cancer that occurs in the cervix, the entrance to the uterus. It occurs as a result of cells that grow abnormally, which, if not caught in time, progresses to other nearby organs like the lungs, liver, bladder, rectum and vagina.
Cervical cancer is quite prevalent as it is the fourth most common cancer in women. Each year, more and more women get diagnosed of it and in 2018 an estimated 570,000 came down with it.
While there are a few causes of cervical cancer, most cases of it arise due to an infection of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), although not all HPV infections will progress to cervical cancer.
For most women, preventing this cancer type is very possible and strongly recommended and one way of achieving this is by taking the HPV vaccine at age 9-26 years of age.
Top Key Facts About Cervical Cancer Every Woman Should Know
1.This cancer type progresses at a slow rate, making it one disease that can be halted and cured before it progresses to the next stage.
2.While this disease typically affects women 30 years and older, women in the age bracket of 35-44 are more at risk of it.
3.Risk factors of cervical cancer vary and a woman might have a few more risk factors for this disease than the next woman.
4.This cancer type might present with no symptoms at the initial stage, which is one chief reason its presence is often missed.
5.The prognosis and chances of survival for this disease depends on the stage at which it is caught.
6.This disease is most times caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), although there are cases where women diagnosed of HPV do not go on to develop this cancer type. There are certain strains of HPV that turns normal cells into abnormal ones.
7.HPV causes about 90% of all cervical cancer cases and there are over 200 of it, although only a handful (about 14) of these strains are high risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, only HPV 16 AND 18 fall under this high risk types and these two are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancer cases.
8.Besides cervical cancer, a few other cancer types the HPV infection has been responsible for include anal, vulvar, vagina, and oropharyngeal cancers.
9.Getting the HPV vaccine as a woman greatly protects you against the violent strains of HPV including strains 16 and 18.
10.Other ways of reducing your chances of getting cervical cancer from HPV includes practicing safe sex with the use of condom, getting regular routine Pap smear tests, building up your immune system, and quitting unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive drinking which have both been linked to cervical cancer.
11.Cervical cancer can be cured, but only if caught on time. In 2012, there were an estimated 528,000 cervical cancer cases, with 266,000 of this number succumbing to the disease.
12.Death from this disease is on the decline (due to the awareness and large embrace of the Pap smear test) as more and more women are beginning to survive the five years stage and well beyond this time.
13.Women of Hispanic descent have the highest risk of developing this disease, followed closely by African-American women.
14.HPV infection doesn’t progress to cervical cancer immediately as it could take 15-20 years (for a woman with a healthy immune system) and 5-10 years (when there is a weakened immune system) for this transmission to occur. In a few cases, the HPV infection clears up on its own within two years without the progression taking place.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms to Look Out for
As earlier said, while the initial stage of this disease may present with very little to no symptoms, ones you can expect to see as the disease progresses include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding.
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Pain in the pelvic region.
- Presence of a mass in the vaginal (rare)
- Difficulty urinating
- Kidney failure
- Bleeding for post menopausal women.
- Symptoms of advanced stage cervical cancer include weight loss. loss of appetite, pain in your back or neck region, swollen legs, heavy vaginal bleeding, blood-tinged urine, blood-tinged stool, leakage of urine or stool from the vagina (rare) and bone fracture.
Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer
Certain factors increases your risk of developing cervical cancer and these include:
- Becoming sexually active before the age of 16 or within a year of your menstruation.
- Having multiple sex partners.
- Long term use of oral contraceptives.
- Having three or more full term pregnancies.
- Having a family history of cervical cancer.
- Past or frequent infections.
- Having a weakened immune system.
- Having unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking or unhealthy drinking.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
There are five stages of cervical cancer ranging from stage 0 to stage 5
- Stage 0: This is the precancerous stage characterized by precancerous cells that exist on the surface of the cervix.
- Stage 1: At this stage, the cancer cells have gone deeper from the surface into the tissue of the cervix and possibly the uterus.
- Stage 2: In stage 2, the cancer moves beyond to infect other nearby organs like the vagina.
- Stage 3: In stage 3, the cancer cells spread to the lower third of the vagina, the pelvic walls and greatly hampers the regular functioning of the kidney.
- Stage 4: At this stage, the cancer spreads further to other parts like the rectum and bladder and to far away organs like the lungs
Cervical Cancer Treatment
A few cervical cancer treatment exists for the management and cure of this disease. However, the treatment you get placed on would be determined by what stage the cancer is at.
Some cervical cancer treatment available include:
This is the most common cervical cancer treatment and is mostly used for invasive cancer. During the surgery, the tumour and possibly other healthy tissues get removed.
Chemotherapy as a cervical cancer treatment involves the use of certain anti-cancer drugs (cytotoxic) to destroy the cancer cells. These drugs are mostly given intravenously .
While chemotherapy works, it is not considered a primary treatment for cervical or any other type of cancer, but is given alongside other cervical cancer treatment like surgery or radiation. However, this treatment type may be given solely when the cancer is advanced or came back after remission.
Radiation or radiotherapy is yet another way to treat cancer. It involves aiming high-energy xrays at the cancer cells with the intent to kill them. Alternatively, tiny capsules of radioactive materials are inserted into the cervix.
When to See Your Doctor
You should consider seeing a doctor if you show any of the symptoms of cervical cancer, especially over an extended period. Since the chances of survival for this disease increases the earlier the it is caught, delaying over any symptom could prove a costly mistake. It’s best a doctor rules a symptom as benign than wrongly assuming it is.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
Proven ways of preventing this disease include:
1.Getting a Pap test done every 3 years if you are 21-29 years and every 5 years if you are 30-64 years of age.
2.Avoiding unprotected sex.
3.Getting the HPV vaccine to greatly reduce your chances of coming down with the disease.
4.Avoiding unhealthy lifestyle habits like smoking and excessive drinking.
5.Limit your exposure to the HPV infection as it can also be spread through skin-to-skin contact.