Information about Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be cured when it's found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a Pap test.
Causes of cervical cancer
Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV can be transmitted by having sexual contact with someone who has it. There are many types of the HPV virus. Not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Some of them cause genital warts, but other types may not cause any symptoms.
HPV can stay in the body for years without symptoms and can lead to cervical cancer years after the patient was infected, thus making regular Pap tests important. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer.
Abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina or an unexplained change in the menstrual cycle.
- Bleeding when something comes in contact with the cervix, such as during sex or when a diaphragm is inserted.
- Pain during sex.
- Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
A Pap test during which a physician scrapes a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix to look for cell changes is the best test. If this test shows abnormal cell changes, other tests may be performed to look for precancerous or cancer cells on the cervix.
Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer that is caught early can usually be cured. If the cancer is caught very early, it is still possible to have children after treatment.
The treatment for most stages of cervical cancer removes the cancer and may make it difficult for the patient to have children. These treatments include:
- A hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Radiation therapy.
Depending on the growth of the cancer one or more treatments may be required including a combination.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
The Pap test is the best way to find cervical cell changes that can lead to cervical cancer. Regular Pap tests almost always show these cell changes before they turn into cancer. It is important to follow up with additional tests after any abnormal Pap test result to treat abnormal cell changes. This may help prevent cervical cancer.
The vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil protect against two types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Gardasil also protects against two types of HPV that cause genital warts. Three shots are given over 6 months. The series of shots is recommended for girls aged 11 or 12 and can be given to females aged 9 to 26. The virus that causes cervical cancer is spread through sexual contact. The best way to avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease is to not have sex. Practicing safer sex, such as using condoms and limiting the number of sex partners is beneficial.