Cervical cancer is a common disease in women and is preventable. It is caused by infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV), which increase a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer cells.
Read more for detailed information on cervical cancer.
What Happens When You Have Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when genital HPV types 16 and 18 and some other low-risk types cause normal cells in the cervix to become abnormal.
These abnormal cells can then turn into high-grade precancerous lesions over time and eventually develop into invasive cancer if left untreated.
What are its symptoms?
Only 40 percent of patients diagnosed with cervical cancer have early symptoms, which often go unnoticed. Symptoms of this type of cancer can include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
- Bleeding after douching or a pelvic exam
- Unusual vaginal discharge that may be watery, bloody, or smelly
- Frequent painful intercourse, painful urination, bleeding after menopause
How is it diagnosed?
The American Cancer Society reportedly diagnosed around 14,480 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in 2021.
Your doctor may do a pap smear to check the cervix for abnormal cells. A colposcopy is a procedure that uses a magnifying glass to examine your vagina and cervix. A lighted tool called a speculum helps your doctor get a better view of the cervix.
Your doctor may prefer to use a speculum, a metal or plastic tube-like device used in pelvic exams, to dilate the vagina and get a better view.
You lie on an examination table and place your feet in stirrups for the procedure. Your doctor will apply vinegar to the cervix, which turns abnormal areas white or yellow.
These patches are then treated with drugs to destroy abnormal cells that could become cancerous.
What are the treatment options?
Depending on how far your cancer has progressed, your doctor may recommend one of these treatments:
- For early-stage cervical cancer, your doctor will remove all or part of the cervix during a hysterectomy. This is usually followed by radiation treatments to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- If your cancer is at a later stage, you may receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy after surgery. In some cases, chemotherapy drugs are given through an IV while the radioactive seed implants are in place.
- If your cancer has spread to other parts of your body, treatments called systemic therapy or chemotherapy may be used. Systemic treatment includes oral medications that you take by mouth, injections or IV fluids given through a needle or catheter, and surgery to remove cancerous lymph nodes.
- The type of treatment is also known as palliative care because it relieves symptoms but does not cure the disease.
- Chemotherapy involves powerful drugs to kill cancer cells. Systemic therapy can also be used when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
How can you eliminate your risk of cervical cancer?
You can lower the risk by getting vaccinated against HPV and practicing safe sex. Vaccines given during childhood are most effective, although they work best when given before a person becomes sexually active.
Cervical cancer is a common and preventable disease. Women should have regular Pap tests and follow up on any abnormal results to ensure their safety.
About the author:
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