Usually when abnormal cells develop and start spreading in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus it is known as cervical cancer. The most intriguing aspect of this cancer is that most of the cervical cancer cases are caused by a type of virus. When diagnosed early, cervical cancer is highly curable.
What are the symptoms?
The disadvantage is that when cervical cells first turn abnormal, there are hardly any signs or symptoms. Only as the cancer progresses, do symptoms appear like unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding in-between periods, bleeding after menopause and bleeding or pain during sex.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus or HPV is a large group of viruses, out of which 40 types can infect the genital areas and some of them have the potency to cause cervical cancer.
HPV infection of the genital area is a common occurrence which will usually clear on its own. Sometimes one of these infections turns chronic and causes the changes in the cells leading to cervical cancer. It is observed that over 90% of cervical cancer is caused mainly by HPV.
Who are at risk of Cervical Cancer?
An HPV infection as mentioned earlier is a very common occurrence and both men and women who have had sex anytime are prone to be infected at some point in life. HPV has a tendency to linger undetected and it is possible that a person carries the infection for years together after a sexual contact.
Condoms are the best protection against HPV; they lower the risk of contracting the virus but are not assured protection. HPV can also cause cancerous growth in the vulva, vagina, penis and anal and oral parts in both sexes.
What raises the risk?
Your genetic make-up and race plays an important part in raising the risk. The risk is also higher in those who smoke, have number of children continuously, use birth control pills for a long time or are HIV positive.
How is cervical cancer detected?
A common test for detecting the presence of cervical cancer is Pap Test. It is one of the most successful tests, where a swab of the cervix can reveal abnormal cells. The early these abnormal cells are detected the better, for then treatment can be taken to prevent cancer. Regular Pap test is required for women from age of 21. If you skip tests then it can raise the risks for cervical cancer.
Doctors may also use colposcopy, examination with a lighted magnifying device. They can take a sample of the tissue and if abnormal cells are found then they can be removed or destroyed thus preventing them from progressing to cancer.
Stages of cervical cancer
There are several stages to the growth and advancement of cervical cancer. At Stage 0 the cancer cells are only on the surface of the cervix. At Stage I the cancer turn more invasive and it grows beyond the cervix and uterus but would not have spread to the walls of the pelvis. In Stage II, the cancer spreads beyond the cervix and uterus and possibly to nearby healthy tissues.
Stage III, the tumour extends to the lower part of the vagina and sometimes blocks urine out flow. In Stage IV, it is in an advanced stage and the cancer spreads to nearby organs of the body.
What are the treatments?
Before the cancer reaches stage II, the abnormal tissues can be detected and remove surgically. The treatment can be simple or more complex like radical hysterectomy that removes the cervix and the uterus along with some nearby tissues. The cancer is also treated with radiation and chemo therapies.