Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that affect a woman’s reproductive organs. It is the second most common cancer in women worldwide and is a leading cause of cancer-related death in women in underdeveloped countries. Worldwide, approximately 500,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. India also bears one fifth of the world’s burden of cervical cancer.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). The upper part, or body, of the uterus, is where a fetus grows. The cervix connects the body of the uterus to the vagina (birth canal). The part of the cervix closest to the body of the uterus is called the endocervix. The part next to the vagina is the ectocervix.
Cervical cancer develops in the lining of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (womb) that enters the vagina (birth canal). This condition usually develops over time. Normal cervical cells may gradually undergo changes to become precancerous and then cancerous. These changes are also termed as Cervical Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN), Squamous Intraepithelial Lesion (SIL), and Dysplasia.
Types Of Cervical Cancers
There are 2 main types of cervical cancers:
Squamous cell carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Most (80-90%) invasive cervical cancer develops in flat, scaly surface cells that line the cervix (called squamous cell carcinomas). Approximately 10-15% of cases develop in glandular surface cells (called adenocarcinomas).
Causes And Risk Factors:
Invasive cervical cancer is more common in women middle aged and older and in women of poor socioeconomic status, who are less likely to receive regular screening and early treatment. The cause of cervical cancer is unknown. But usually two types of infections namely Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) & Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) are known to cause cervical cancer.
Sexual activity that increases the risk for infection with HPV and HIV for cervical cancer includes the following:
- Having multiple sexual partners or having sex with a promiscuous partner
- History of sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Sexual intercourse at a young age
- Women who smoke cigarettes are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer
Signs And Symptoms:
Symptoms that may occur includes:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (e.g., spotting after sexual intercourse, bleeding between menstrual periods, increased menstrual bleeding) .
- Abnormal (yellow, odorous) vaginal discharge.
- Low back pain.
- Painful sexual intercourse (dyspareunia).
- Painful urination (dysuria).
Cervical cancer that has spread to other organs may cause constipation. Blood in the urine (hematuria), abnormal opening in the cervix (fistula), and ureteral obstruction (blockage in the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder).
Diagnosis of cervical cancer includes a Papanicolaou test (Pap smear) and pelvic examination. Once a diagnosis of cervical cancer is made, the cancer is staged. Staging involves a pelvic examination, blood tests, and imaging procedures. Blood tests may include a complete blood count (CBC) and serum chemistry to evaluate kidney and liver function.
- Avoiding sexual activity that increases the risk for HPV infection
- Not smoking,
- Having regular Pap smears can help prevent most cases of cervical cancer.
- Using barrier contraception (e.g., condoms)
- Limiting the number of sexual partners may prevent HPV infection
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the disease. They are usually treated with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Surgical treatment involves radical hysterectomy, (removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, adjacent lymph nodes, and part of the vagina) & lymphadenectomy (surgical removal of lymph nodes).
Radiation: After surgery, radiation may be used to decrease the risk for recurrence. Chemotherapy uses toxic drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is administered intravenously, through injection, or in pill form.
Side effects include Fatigue, Swelling, Skin reddening, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea, and Leukopenia (low white blood cell count).
It is very important to obtain regular cervical cancer screening with follow-up exams. Doctor should be consulted if any concern about exposure to sexually transmitted disease or to the human papilloma virus is suspected. Cancer of the cervix often can be cured, if it is detected and treated early.