Of all cancers that affect women, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent type.According to World Health Organization (WHO), in the year 2018, there were 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported across the world. Let’s take a look into cervical cancer, its symptoms, causes, early signs and risk factors.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix - the lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina. It’s also called the birth canal. The lower part of the cervix, called ectocervix, lies within the vagina whereas the remaining larger part lies above it. Most cervical cancers originate in the area where these two parts come in contact.
Cervical cancer appears with a wide range of symptoms. They include:
Bleeding – when bleeding occurs between two periods, or after sexual intercourse or in post-menopausal women, it could be a case of cervical cancer.
Discomfort during sexual intercourse
Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
Blood-tinged vaginal discharge
The early signs
Like many other types of cancers, cervix cancer may not show any signs at all in the early stages, making it difficult to diagnose the disease. However, opting to undergo regular cervical smear tests or Pap smear tests, one can prevent cervical cancer. Pap smear test is a preventive measure that helps to detect changes in cell growth. Since cell changes indicate the possibility of developing cancer, the test enables an individual to take adequate measures against cervical cancer.
Causes & risk factors
Though it’s not clear what causes cervical cancer, it’s proven beyond doubt that Human Papillomavirus (HPV) plays a significant role in it. Many people with HPV live a healthy and happy life without ever developing the disease. So, what causes cervical cancer or what are the factors that put one in risk?
There are many factors including lifestyle choices. Some of them are:
Multiple sexual partners: A person is at a higher risk of contracting cervical cancer depending on the number of partners she has – and how many partners her partners have.
Early sexual activity: Women with a history of early sexual activity are at a higher risk.
Smoking: While it’s well-known that smoking causes oral as well as lung cancers, it is also true that it can causes cervical cancer.
A weakened immune system: Those with HIV or AIDS are prone to fall prey to cervical cancer owing to their weakened immune system. People who have undergone transplants are susceptible, particularly because of the use of immunosuppressive medication.
Other STDs: Those with other sexually-transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis stand a higher chance of getting cancer of the cervix.
How is cervical cancer treated?
Like other types of cancers, cervical cancer can be treated with a wide range of options. But it all depends on what stage the disease is in.
If it’s in the early stages, surgery is normally what the doctors opt for. But if it’s spread beyond cervix, either radiation therapy or radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is suggested.
Unlike most cancers, cervical cancer is preventable. According to World health Organization “almost all of cervical cancer deaths could be avoided if known effective interventions were available to all women and implemented, including immunizing adolescent girls against human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions.”
The most important preventive measure is vaccination against HPV. Others include periodical cervical screening, having fewer sexual partners, delaying first sexual intercourse and quitting smoking.
With proper awareness programmes, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.