What is it?
Cervical Cancer is malignant cancer of the cervix uteri or cervical area. 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.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb). It is sometimes called the uterine cervix. The body (upper part) 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 exocervix (or ectocervix). The place where these 2 parts meet is called the transformation zone. Most cervical cancers start in the transformation zone.
As part of your regular pelvic exam, you should have a Pap test. During a Pap test the doctor scrapes a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix to look for cell changes. If a Pap test shows abnormal cell changes, your doctor may do other tests to look for precancerous or cancer cells on your cervix.
Your doctor may also do a Pap test and take a sample of tissue (biopsy) if you have symptoms of cervical cancer, such as bleeding after sex.
Prevalence of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer among women worldwide with 400,000 newly diagnosed cases every year. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer of women in most developing countries, where it accounts for as many as one in four female cancers. It occurs much less frequently in developed countries. In the US, there are about 15,000 new diagnosed cases each year and about 1/3 of these women die of the malignant form of the disease. This incidence in women in the US varies among ethnic groups; it is twice as prevalent in black women than in white women. Cervical HPV infection is extremely common in sexually active young women. Peak prevalence is seen between 15 to 25 years of age and varies from 25 to 40%.
What causes Cervical Cancer
Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. You can get HPV 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.
You can have HPV for years and not know it. It stays in your body and can lead to cervical cancer years after you were infected. This is why it is important for you to have regular Pap tests. A Pap test can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you treat these cell changes, you may prevent cervical cancer.
What are the Symptoms?
Abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms. But you may have symptoms if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
• Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, or a change in your menstrual cycle that you can’t explain.
• Bleeding when something comes in contact with your cervix, such as during sex or when you put in a diaphragm.
• Pain during sex.
• Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.
Can it be treated?
Yes! Cervical cancer that is caught early can usually be cured. If the cancer is caught very early, you still may be able to have children after treatment.
The treatment for most stages of cervical cancer removes the cancer and makes you unable 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.