Cervical Cancer

The third most common type of cancer in women, cervical cancer occurs whenever the cells of the cervix become cancerous. The cervix opens at the top of the vagina, and makes up the lower part of the womb or uterus.

Causes

While it’s not completely known what causes cervical cancer, we do know that human papillomavirus (HPV) indeed plays a significant role, as most cervical cancer cases occur in women that have or have had HPV. Though the cervix prevents HPV from spreading elsewhere, in a few women the cells of the cervix become abnormal.

The two types of cervical cancer depend on which cervix cells are affected. The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in the squamous cells on the outer portion of the cervix. Adenocarcinomas occur in the cells that line the cervical canal.

Symptoms

Unfortunately, cervical cancer does not display many symptoms in its earliest stages. However, the following may occur:

  • Irregular bleeding from the vagina, such as the time between periods, or following intercourse or menopause
  • Pale, watery, pink or bloody discharge from the vagina that does not stop
  • Heavy periods that last longer than normal periods

If cervical cancer has spread to other areas, you may notice these advanced symptoms:

  • Bone fractures or pain
  • Urine or feces seeping from the vagina
  • Leg pain or a swollen leg
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Pelvic pain

Testing

A Pap test is the preferred method of testing for abnormal cells in the cervix. Pap tests can identify cancerous or precancerous cells early in the life of cervical cancer, and is performed by a doctor scraping or brushing cells from the cervix. A similar test is called an HPV DNA test, which looks for any of the types of HPV that are known to lead to cervical cancer.

If a Pap test shows signs of cervical cancer, your doctor may perform a colposcopy, which utilizes a magnifying device to get a better look at the cervix for abnormal cells. A biopsy might also be performed, to collect and test the abnormal cells.

Treatment

Cervical cancer is most often treated through surgery called a hysterectomy, a removal of the uterus, cervix and cancer. Simple hysterectomies only remove a small portion, but a more radical procedure for later stages might include the removal of part of the vagina and the lymph nodes as well. Radiation and chemotherapy are additional options for treating cervical cancer. ,

To prevent cervical cancer, it is critical to get regular Pap tests before the development of cancer. And while there are vaccines to help prevent against HPV, the best course of action to prevent HPV are:

  • use a condom during intercourse
  • limit sexual partners
  • know your partner’s sexual history
  • avoid open sores on the genitals

If you feel you are exhibiting symptoms of cervical cancer or want to get a Pap screening, please consult your doctor. To read more about cervical cancer, visit The U.S. National Library of Medicine.