The cervix is the neck of a woman's uterus that extends to the top end of the vagina. Cancer of the cervix may develop in the lining of the cervix and usually progresses over time. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in the world after breast cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection is the major cause of cervical cancer. There are more than 100 types of HPV but only a few can put you at risk of cervical cancer. HPVs can be passed through skin-to-skin or sexual contact. Genetic connections have been recognized for different cancers including cervical cancer. Women who have first-degree biological relatives with cervical cancer are 2 to 3 times likely to develop cervical cancer. Daughters of women who used Diethylstilbestrol to prevent miscarriage are also more vulnerable to cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer causes neither pain nor other symptoms in its early stages. Unusual vaginal discharge and bleeding are usually the first symptoms of the disease. The normal vaginal fluid is usually milky white or clear and varies depending on your menstrual and ovulation cycle. An increase in the discharge, abnormal consistency or odor of the fluid is considered unusual and abnormal. Abnormal vaginal bleeding or menorrhagia may mean excessive bleeding or irregular interval of menstrual periods. Menorrhagia can happen during periods, after intercourse, or after menopause.
If the cancer has spread to nearby tissues or in later stages of cervical cancer, sharp and dull pains may be experienced in the pelvic area. Painful urination, intercourse, and blood in urine may also be experienced. Like in other cancers, persistent fatigue, nausea and vomiting, loss of weight and appetite also constitute to cervical cancer symptoms.
Treatment of cervical cancer may be a combination of the following:
- Surgery. Treatment by surgery is done by radical hysterectomy or removal of the uterus, ovaries, lymph nodes, lymph channels, part or whole of vagina, and fallopian tubes. Radical hysterectomy is done for earlier stage cervical cancer.
- Radiation therapy. High energy x-rays are used to kill and shrink cancer cells. Radiation therapy can be external (External Beam Radiation Therapy or EBRT) or internal (Internal Radiation Therapy). In EBRT, the pelvis is directed with radiations from multiple positions. Daily treatment is given for approximately 4 to 6 weeks to a patient with cervical cancer. Internal Radiation Therapy, often called brachytherapy, uses a radioactive material that is placed directly into the cervix. This procedure delivers the radiation directly to the cervix thus, minimizing the effects to other organs.
- Chemotherapy. In chemotherapy, toxic drugs are used to destroy cancer cells and are usually administered intravenously or by mouth. The most commonly used is Cisplatin and may be used along with other chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy is also used in advanced cervical cancer or if the cancer has recurred after radiotherapy.
When it comes to health, prevention is always better than cure. Since the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) usually causes this type of cancer, an HPV vaccine may be effective against the high-risk types of HPV that causes cervical cancer. Regular pelvic exam and Pap smear are recommended for women age over 18, or under 18 and sexually active.
Cervical cancer symptoms often mimic other illnesses or ailments. In the case of pelvic pain, this symptom can also be associated with ovarian cancer. If you experience any of the symptoms of cervical cancer, you should immediately seek your doctor and have a complete gynecological examination. Cancer of the cervix is curable if detected and treated early. The five-year relative survival rate of cervical cancer is high compared to the survival rates of brain cancer, stomach cancer, and liver cancer.