Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Complications, and Treatment

Meaning of Cervical Cancer

The cervix is the lower part of the uterus which connects the organ to the vagina. When the cells of the cervix began to develop anomalously, there is a high chance of them transforming into cancerous cells leading to cervical cancer. Sometimes, however, the abnormal cells go back to being normal.

There are two main types of cervical cancer which are distinguishable by appearance under the microscope of a lab.

a) Squamous cell carcinoma: They develop in the thin cells that lie flat at the bottom wall of the cervix. This type of cancer accounts for around 80%-90% of cases.

b) Adenocarcinoma: These cells develop in the upper side, among the glandular cells that are present in the cervix. 

Sometimes the cancerous cells can become metastatic and spread to other nearby organs – ovary, intestine etcetera. 

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

The common cervical cancer symptoms can be confused with other reproductive or gynecological problems. You need to identify the issues and follow through with a checkup with a doctor to be sure.

- Blood clots discharge or light bleeding in between menstrual cycles

- Heavier, longer and painful menstrual bleeding

- Vaginal fluid discharge with a foul odor

- Bleeding and pain in the abdomen, pelvic bones or lower back during sexual intercourse

- Persistent pain in the pelvic region

Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer

Step 1: Screening – The habit of screening is necessary in the early twenties and maintained lifelong to detect any possibilities of cancer. It is of two types – one is Pap test where a part of the tumor is brushed off from the cervix for test, and another is HPV DNA test which checks for Human papillomavirus infection, the most common cause for cervical cancer.

Step 2: Colposcopy – In this step, the doctor will perform biopsy of the affected cervix cells either by punch biopsy, endocervical curettage, an electrical wire loop or cone biopsy. In every case, a sample tissue is taken for the further test. 

Step 3: Staging – To determine the stage of cervical cancer, imaging tests like X-ray, CT scans and MRI are done and sometimes PET is also ordered by the doctor to see the spread of cancer. Sometimes, special scopes are used to have a visual and live image of the cervix.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

a) HPV – The main cause behind potential cervical cancer is HPV. Human Papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted infection which nests itself in the uterus and when and if the individual’s immune system is down, the HPV virus causes the cervix cells to turn cancerous. 

b) Other STDs – Other STDs like HIV/AIDS, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis also increases the chance of cervical cancer.

c) Smoking – Though smoking and uterus sound unrelated, it does lead to squamous cell cervical cancer in women. 

Prevention of Cervical Cancer

A large percentage of women suffer from cervical cancer every year and more and more get diagnosed with it. But the risks of it can be prevented with some simple steps:

a) Getting vaccinated against HPV – HPV vaccinations are available for women once they reach puberty. It is most effective if given once the individual is sexually active and in the risk of contracting the disease.

b) Having safe sexual intercourse: Using protection during sexual intercourse is the best way to prevent HPV and other STDs to latch on. 

c) Getting checked up by the doctor: Regular pap tests will reveal if there are precancerous conditions in the cervix and early treatment can be initiated. 

Treatment

Treatment for cervical cancer largely depends on the stage and also on the receiving abilities of the patient. 

a) Hysterectomy: In a hysterectomy, the cervix and the uterus (partially or completely), and sometimes parts of the vagina are removed. This is an option only in the initial stages. But this treatment makes future pregnancy impossible.

b) Radiation: Both EBRT (external beams) and brachytherapy (internal radiation) are used to defunct the affected cancerous cells in the cervix. 

c) Chemotherapy: Strong chemo drugs and injected via IV system to target and to kill the cells. Sometimes this is accompanied by radiation and surgery as well, to reduce the negative effects of chemo.

Complications/Risks

- Early menopause

- Dryness in the vaginal walls

- Hot flushes, nausea, mood changes

- Osteoporosis or brittle bones

- Lymphodema, if cancer had spread to lymph nodes

- Emotional distress

Home remedies

Cervical cancer does not have home remedies because it comes from mostly STD. But women can keep their immunity up so that the HPV or other viruses do not cause cancer. Food rich in vitamins like fresh fruits and vegetables is suggested. 

Did you know (trivia)

- Around 80% sexually active women have the chance of contracting HPV in their lifetime.

- Worldwide the fatality rate of cervical cancer is once every two minutes.


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