What you should know about the Cervical Cancer ?
What is Cervical Cancer ?
It refers to the cancer of the uterine cervix i.e; the lower part of the uterus which extends slightly into the top of the vagina.
How common is the cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women and second most frequent cancer in worldwide. Every year about 1.3 lakh new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in our country and about 74,000 women die of this disease.
CERVICAL CANCER : What are the risks and symptoms :
Cervical cancer often occurs at the ages of 40 and 55 ages. Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue.
- A cervical tumour usually starts from one abnormal cell. The exact reason why a cell becomes cancerous is unclear which multipies ‘out of control’.
- The initial ‘pre – cancerous’ abnormality of cervical cells is usually caused by a prior infection with the Human Papilloma Virus.
Risk factors :
- Sexual activity before the age of 18years, either by you or your partner
- Multiple sexual partners
- A partner previously involoved with a women with cervical cancer
- Personal history of sexually transmitted viruses such as herpes infection or human papillomas virus ( HPV )
- More than 3 pregnancies
- A weakened immune system
- Unsupervised Long term use of oral contraceptives
What are the warning signs and symptoms ?
Very early-stage cervical cancer may have no symptoms. This means it’s important to attend regular cervical screening|, so that any cell changes can be picked up early.
- Contact spotting or bleeding
- Increased / blood stained vaginal discharge
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods or excessively heavy periods
- Post menopausal vaginal bleeding
Consult a specialist immediately if you experience any of the above symptoms though these may be present in conditions other than Cancer Cervix.
Preventing cervical cancer
Regular screening| is the best way to reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
- Primary prevention : HPV vaccines have the potential for preventing cervical cancer. Routine vaccination with proper counseling is recommended for the female ages 11 to 26. Please consult your gynecologist and understand the risk and benefits.
- Secondary prevention : By diagnosing and optimally treating the precancerous conditions of cervical cancer.
This is an important way of detecting early changes in cells of the cervix so that treatment can be given to prevent a cancer developing. It involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix using a test known as a liquid-based cytology. The age range for screening varies, screening takes place between the ages of 25–64.
If abnormal cells are found during your cervical screening test, you will be referred for a colposcopy to have a biopsy taken.
- The human papilloma virus is a common virus. More than 100 different types of HPV have been identified and each is known by a number. HPV affects the skin and the mucosa (the moist membranes that line the body, such as the insides of the mouth, throat, anus and cervix).
- Some types of HPV cause harmless skin warts (papillomas) that can appear on the hands and feet. Types 6 and 11 affect the genital area and can cause genital warts, but they don’t cause cervical cancer. These types are called low-risk HPV.
- Other types of HPV are known to increase the risk of developing particular cancers and are referred to as high-risk HPV. HPV infection of the cervix is mainly diagnosed in women as a result of the cervical screening programme|. A woman may be told she has HPV when she receives her cervical screening result. If HPV infection is present, changes in the appearance of the cells can sometimes be seen when they are looked at under a microscope during the screening process.
Some women who have an abnormal smear test result will attend a colposcopy clinic, where their cervix will be examined using an instrument like a microscope (a colposcope). During the examination, the nurse or doctor can apply a solution to the cervix that makes cells infected with HPV turn white.
Most women have HPV at some point in their lives without it causing any harm. There is no treatment for HPV, but our own immune systems can usually get rid of it quickly by themselves.
The most important thing women can do is have regular cervical smear tests. These will pick up any abnormal cell changes, which can be easily treated before they develop into cancer.
Types of cervical cancer
There are two main types of cervical cancer.
- The most common is called squamous cell carcinoma. This develops from the flat cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix at the top of the vagina.
- The other type is called adenocarcinoma. This type develops from the glandular cells that line the cervical canal (the endocervix). As adenocarcinoma starts in the cervical canal, it can be more difficult to detect with cervical screening tests.
There are also other, less common types of cancer of the cervix, known as adenosquamous carcinomas, clear-cell carcinomas and small-cell carcinomas.
Assessment for cervical cancer
Cancer of the cervix can be treated with either surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these treatments.
To confirm the diagnosis:
- A doctor will usually do a vaginal examination if a woman has a symptoms which may indicate cervical cancer
- The doctor may feel an abnormal cancer
- If cervical cancer, is suspected , a colposcopy is advised
- For this test a speculum is gently put into the vagina so the cervix can be seen in detail using a magnifier (colposcope)
- The test takes about 15 – 30 mins
- During colposcopy it is usual to take a small piece of tissue from the cervix(biopsy). The biopsy sample is then examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
Assessing the extent and spread :
- CT scan
- An MRI scan
- A chest X-ray
- An ultrasound scan
- Blood test or other tests
- This assessment is known as ‘staging’ of the cancer. The aim of staging is to find out :
- How much the tumour has grown, and whether it has grown to other nearby structures such as the bladder or rectum.
- Whether the cancer has spread to local lymph glands.
- Whether the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Treatment for cervical cancer
Depending on the stage patients are grouped in early and Locally Advanced. In early advanced Cancer patients are treated by surgery and followed radiation if required. In Locally advanced cervical cancer patients are treated by chemotherapy and Radiotherapy.
Mostly Cervical Cancers are preventable and a treatable cancer with hopes of cure.