Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, or, the lower part of the uterus. Abnormal cells are found on the cervix during routine pap smears. Yearly (or more) pap smears are extremely important for women to get as cervical cancer generally has no signs or symptoms. Most cases are found through routine pap-smear screenings. Normally, cervical cancer starts as dysplasia, which is a precancerous condition and is always 100% treatable. Many women who do develop cervical cancer have skipped their pap smears or did not follow up on an abnormal result.
Precancerous cells (dysplasia) can and will turn into cervical cancer and can spread to the bladder, lungs, liver and sometimes intestines. This happens very gradually and slowly.
Almost every case of cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which is spread through unprotected intercourse.
Early cervical cancer signs and symptoms may be overlooked, but include:
- Bleeding after menopause
- Continuous vaginal discharge
- Change in periods in which they become extremely heavy and last much longer
- Abnormal bleeding between periods when you didnt have that before
Signs of advanced cancer can include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Leg pain
- Pelvic pain
- Swollen leg (one leg only)
- Back pain
- Heavy, unexplained bleeding
- Leaking of urine from the vagina
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Treating cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer. When you are diagnosed, your doctor will order tests such as a CT Scan, Cystoscopy, MRI and others, to determine how far the cervical cancer has spread and see stage it has advanced to.
A hysterectomy is usually performed on those where the cancer has not spread. If cancer is found to be more advanced, a radical hysterectomy is performed, which removes not only the uterus, but also the lymph nodes and upper parts of the vagina. A rare and radical surgery that can be performed is a pelvic exenteration in which the organs of the pelvis, which include the bladder and rectum, are removed.
Cervical cancers do not always respond well to treatments, and may return. Radiation, chemotherapy and surgery can cause sexual, bowel and bladder problems.
Radiation can be used when a cancer has spread, or when a cancer has returned.
A vaccine was approved in 2006 which prevents cervical cancers. Also, practicing safe sex, by always using condoms will almost eliminate your risk of contracting HPV (which can also cause genital warts). Reducing the number of sexual partners also decreases your risk dramatically of contracting HPV and the best early detection of cervical cancer is getting yearly (or whatever your doctor suggests) pap smears and follow up with any abnormal results.