Cervical cancer is the development of abnormal cells that originates in the cervix. The cervix is found below the uterus and bridges it to the upper vagina. This condition is very common among underdeveloped countries, where it ranks second among the leading causes of death related to cancer.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
In most cases, cervical cancer is caused by HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Various types of this virus are also known to cause genital warts, skin warts, and other skin disorders. HPV may be acquired through sexual contact, particularly having several sexual partners.
There are also evidences that cigarette smoking could increase the chances of developing cervical cancer. Chemicals found in cigarettes may interact with cervix cells, which, in turn, create changes that could lead to the development of cancer cells.
Women who have used oral contraceptives for at least five years may also have higher risks of developing cervical cancer.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
Individuals may experience different conditions that may lead to cervical cancer. This will greatly be dependent on various factors, which include the patient’s medical history, fertility, and age. For women who’ve already reached their menopausal, vaginal bleeding is not normal. In case this happens, the affected person should immediately seek a doctor. It is also important to have a check up in case bleeding occurs in between periods or after having sexual intercourse, as well as bleeding associated with feeling light-headed or weakness.
How is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?
Early stages of cervical cancer are most commonly detected through Pap smear (Papanicolaou test). This is a quick and painless procedure where the cells on the cervix’s surface are collected to be checked for any abnormalities.
Cervical cancer diagnosis may also require a cervical biopsy (cervical tissue extraction), where the tissue sample is then evaluated by a specialist through a microscope to check for cancer.
Colposcopy is another procedure used for cervical cancer detection. Similar to a pelvic exam, this is where a colposcope is used for examining the cervix, while a dye is applied to the cervix area to easily identify the presence of abnormal cells.
In the case of invasive cervical cancer, larger biopsies may be required. The LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure) technique, which may be done in the OB/GYN clinic, takes a cervix tissue sample through using an electrified wire loop. Another procedure is the cone biopsy, which is done in the operating room with the patient under anesthesia. This is where a tiny sample of cervix tissue in cone-shape is taken out for evaluation. Results from a cone biopsy will help determine the exact areas affected by the condition.
What are the Treatments for Cervical Cancer?
If the innermost cells taken out through the biopsy are normal, treatment may not be necessary. However, once there are cancerous cells detected farther than what the biopsy’s scope, the doctor may require chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery.
Chemotherapy. This is more commonly used to improve the efficiency of radiation therapy. Drugs are administered to help eliminate cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. The medications used in the process may vary from factors such as the type of cancer and the condition’s stage.
Radiation Therapy. In this treatment, high radiation levels are used to decrease the tumor size or eliminate cancer cells. The procedure is done externally through a radiation therapy apparatus or internally using radioactive materials set in the patient’s uterus. Radiation therapy may be used alone, or preceding or following chemotherapy.
Surgery. Surgery is usually done in combination with other treatments. The patient will undergo a surgical method depending on factors like the stage of the condition.
- Radical Trachelectomy. This process involves removing the cervix and the tissue around it while keeping the uterus unscathed.
- Radical Hysterectomy. In this surgical method, part of the vagina, the cervix, and the uterus are removed. In worse conditions, the fallopian tubes, lymph nodes, and ovaries are taken out.
- Lymphadenectomy. A common method for treating cervical cancer, this is where the lymph nodes are surgically removed.
- Bilateral Salpingo-Oophorectomy. The ovaries and fallopian tubes are both surgically removed in this procedure.