Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer death among women in developing countries, but is significantly less common in developed countries, including the United States. Current estimates by the American Cancer Society reveal that there are 11,070 new cases of cervical cancer in the country in 2008.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is malignant cancer of the cervical area or cervix uteri. It is a carcinoma that commonly comprises squamous cells. It is somehow similar to squamous cell cancers found in the anus, head, and neck. All of these diseases may be linked with human papillomavirus infection (HPV).

What causes cervical cancer?

HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer. HPV is transmitted by having sexual intercourse with someone who has this virus. HPV comes in many types, but not all can lead to cervical cancer. Some types of HPV cause genital warts, but some others may not cause any symptoms at all.

Cervical cancer can be considered a silent killer. HPV can stay in your body for so long (up to many years) undetected. That is why many sufferers are caught by surprise when they learn they have cervical cancer. Thus, it is very important for women to have Pap tests regularly.

Symptoms of cervical cancer?

Abnormal changes in cervical cell hardly ever show any symptom. But they may manifest symptoms if these cell changes develop into cervical cancer. Symptoms may include abnormal bleeding from the vagina, or a change in menstrual cycle that is hard to explain.

Other symptoms include: bleeding of the cervix when something comes in contact with it (when putting in a diaphragm or during a sexual activity), pain during sex, and vaginal discharge tinged with blood.

How is it diagnosed?

Every woman is encouraged to have a regular pelvic exam. A Pap test, the procedure where the doctor takes a small cell sample from the surface of your cervix, are part of this exam. This test can detect cervical cell changes before they progress into cancer.

If a Pap test shows abnormal cell changes, your doctor may do other tests to look for precancerous or cancer cells on your cervix. Treating these cell changes may prevent cervical cancer.

How is cervical cancer treated?

Early detection may cure cervical cancer. Treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and hysterectomy. Pelvic lymph nodes will also be removed, with or without the removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries.

If detected early, you may only have one treatment. If detected late and the cancer has grown, you may have more treatments, usually a combination of treatments. There is a high possibility that such treatments can affect your ability to give birth. But you still can have children after treatment if the cancer is detected at its earliest stage.