What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a form of cancer that occurs when cervix cells have an abnormal, out-of-control growth. Even if it starts in the cervix - the lower part of the womb opening into the vagina, in advanced stages can spread to other parts of the body.
The cancerous cells don't appear suddenly and the transformations take place over the years. With regular screening (PAP and HPV tests) the changes of normal cells into pre-cancerous cells can be caught in early stages and prevented from growth.
We know of two main types of cervical cancer: squamous cell cancer (9 of 10 cases) and adenocarcinoma.
The squamous cell cancers refer to the cells from exocervix and they often begin in the transformation zone. Adenocarcinomas develop from gland cells of the endocervix.
Most cervical cancer is likely to develop in the presence of a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Symptoms may not be visible in pre-cancerous or early stages, but they get noticed as the disease advances.
Seeing a doctor is recommendable if you show:
- Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding (bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after menopause, after sexual intercourse).
- Pelvic pain not related to your menstrual cycle.
- Pain during urination and abnormal urinary frequency
- Heavy or unusual vaginal discharge (possibly thick and watery).
Treatment may not be necessary if pre-cancerous cells go away on their own, as only 10-20% of the cases seem to be true cervical cancers.
When the pre-cancers turn into invasive cancers, treatment depends on the type of cancer, the stage of the disease, the localization of the condition, the age and the physical condition of the woman and the option of having children or not.
Cervical cancer can be removed by surgery, often associated with radiation therapy that eliminates cancer cells. The early-stage and late-stage cancers can also be treated with chemotherapy and chemoradiation.