January is Cervical Cancer awareness month. How aware are you? Below is a basic review that we should all be aware and again I will emphasize on the need for a regular tests and ask questions when at the gynae . Prevention is always better.
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 successfully treated when it’s found early. It is usually found at a very early stage through a Pap test.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women worldwide. But in the United States and other countries where cervical cancer screening is routine, this cancer is not so common.
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.
Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time. An infection may go away on its own. But sometimes it can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer. That’s why it’s important for women 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.
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, such as bleeding between menstrual periods, after sex, or after menopause.
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvis.
- Pain during sex.
- Vaginal discharge that isn’t normal.
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.
What causes cervical cancer?
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman.
There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. However, some types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer.
Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. These types of HPV infection don’t have any symptoms, so many women won’t realise they have the infection.
However, it’s important to be aware that these infections are relatively common and most women who have them don’t develop cervical cancer.
Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV, but it can’t always prevent infection, because the virus is also spread through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital area.
Treating cervical cancer
If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it’s usually possible to treat it using surgery. In some cases, it’s possible to leave the womb in place, but it may need to be removed. The surgical procedure used to remove the womb is called a hysterectomy.
Radiotherapy is an alternative to surgery for some women with early stage cervical cancer. In some cases, it’s used alongside surgery.
More advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Some of the treatments used can have significant and long-lasting side effects, including early menopause and infertility.
Many women with cervical cancer will have complications. These can arise as a direct result of the cancer or as a side effect of treatments such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.
Complications associated with cervical cancer can range from the relatively minor, such as minor bleeding from the vagina or having to urinate frequently, to life-threatening, such as severe bleeding or kidney failure.
Who’s affected by cervical cancer?
It’s possible for women of all ages to develop cervical cancer, but the condition mainly affects sexually active women aged between 30 and 45. Cervical cancer is very rare in women under 25.