Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages, And Treatment

The state when the cells of the cervix lead an abnormal growth and invade other organs and tissues of a woman’s body is called Cervical Cancer.

This cancer affects the tissues of the cervix and spread to other parts of the body, such as lungs, liver, bladder, rectum, and vagina. Since cervical cancer is slow-progressive in nature, it provides opportunities for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Cervical Cancer Facts

Precancerous changes in women are diagnosed while they are in their 20s and 30s. However, the average age when women are diagnosed with cervical cancer is the mid-50s. This difference in the age at which precancerous changes are diagnosed and when cervical cancer is actually diagnosed highlights nothing but slow progression of the disease.

This is also the reason why the different stages of adequate treatment can prevent it.

According to a study by American Cancer Society, the majority of cases of cervical cancer are caused by human papillomavirus or HPV. As HPV vaccine can effectively prevent HPV, Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention or CDC suggests all preteens take this vaccine.

Cervical Cancer Symptoms

Women in the early stage of cervical cancer may not experience any symptoms of signs at all. This marks the need for a regular pap smear or pap tests for its early diagnosis.

Although a pap test does not detect cervical cancer, it can certainly detect any cell changes, which could lead to cancer development so that preventive actions can be taken at the earliest.

The following are some common symptoms of cervical cancer:

  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Discomfort during sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding in post-menopausal women
  • Vaginal discharge ringed and blood

However, the symptoms listed above could also refer to some other causes or infections. Therefore, anyone who experiences any of these symptoms must see a doctor at the earliest.

Cervical Cancer Causes

Most cells in the human body have a fixed lifespan and new cells are produced automatically when old ones die. The uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal cells in the human body leads to cancer. The growth of abnormal cells can have two possible outcomes:

  • Either they continue dividing
  • Or they do not die

Irrespective of the cases above, the accumulation of excessive cells leads to the formation of a lump known as a tumor. The reason why these cells become cancerous is still unknown.

There are some risk factors that increase the development of cervical cancer in women. Some of these are as follows:

  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): This is a Sexually transmitted virus and there are over 100 of such HPVs out of which 13 can cause cervical cancer.
  • A Weak Immune System: Those who have undergone a transplant and been taking immunosuppressants have a weak immune system, which makes them more prone to cervical cancer.
  • Long-term Mental Stress: High levels of stress over a longer period of time leads to decreased ability to fight HPVs. A research conducted in 2016 showed that women who drink, smoke are more likely to develop HPV infections.
  • Smoking: Tobacco users are more prone to cervical and other types of cancer.
  • Giving childbirth at a Young Age: Early pregnancy undoubtedly bring lots of risks. Women who get pregnant and give childbirth before the age of 17 years are more exposed to cervical cancer as compared to those who give birth after 25 years of age.
  • Having Multiple Sexual Partners: Doctors say that having multiple sexual partners is way too much risk. Cervical cancer caused by HPVs are most often transmitted by sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Women having multiple sex partners are at more risk of getting infected with HPV, which develops cervical cancer.
  • Birth Control Pills: Women who take birth control pills over a longer period of time increase their risk of developing cervical cancer.
  • Multiple Pregnancies: Women who have had three pregnancies and given birth to at least three children separately are at more risk than women who never got pregnant.
  • Other STDs: Sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia increase the risk of developing cervical cancer in women.

Cervical Cancer Stages

Before cancer can be effectively treated, it is important to figure out its current stage. In fact, staging cancer helps further to figure out how much it has developed so far. There are multiple ways to find out the current stage of cancer, but the 4-stage system is widely used.

The following are the stages:

  • Stage 0: At this stage, precancerous cells are found to be present.
  • Stage 1: At this stage, cancer cells have so grown and reached into the deeper tissues of the cervix and possibly into the uterus and nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2: At this stage, the cancer cells have reached beyond cervix and uterus but not reached the walls of the pelvis or lower part of the vagina. Lymph nodes may or may not be affected.
  • Stage 3: At this stage, cancer cells are present in walls of the pelvis or lower part of the vagina, probably locking the ureters. Lymph nodes still may or may not be affected.
  • Stage 4: At this stage, cancer affects the rectum or bladder and keeps growing out of the pelvis. Lymph nodes still may or may not be affected. Later in this stage, cancer spreads to other distant organs, including bones, lungs, lymph nodes and the liver.

Cervical Cancer Treatment

Cancer treatment comprises surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and combinations of these. Which treatment option to choose is subject to the cancer stage, age and overall health of the patient.

  • Radiotherapy

In this treatment method, high-energy X-rays are used to destroy cancer cells while these radiations may also cause diarrhea, upset stomach, early menopause bladder irritation etc.

  • Chemotherapy

In this treatment method, chemicals are used to destroy cancer cells, typically those that were not removed or the surgery. Some common side effects of chemotherapy include diarrhea, fatigue, hair loss, infertility etc.

The stage at which cancer is diagnosed indicates that chances of the person to survive 5 or more years. This survival rate is not applicable to everyone, as sometimes treatment is successful even at stage 4.

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