Cancer of the cervix occurs when a cancerous growth or a tumour occurs in the lower end of the cervix. It is a disease commonly seen in women between the ages of 45 and 65 years. It is one of the few cancers that can be largely prevented by regular screening before it shows the symptoms. Human papillomavirus vaccine or HPV helps to protect against the disease. The development of disease happens slowly. In the pre-cancerous stage, cervical cells gradually change from being mildly to extremely abnormal. These changes are detected with the help of cervical smear test, which allows the treatment to be carried out before the disease reaches an advanced stage.
There have been several cases wherein the cause of the disease is not known. However, in some cases it is associated with certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse. The risk of contriving cervical cancer increases if you have unprotected sex from an early age, or if you have sexual relationship with multiple partners. Also, smoking is one of the risk factors. Women who have reduced immunity or who are taking immuno-suppresants have a higher risk of developing the disease.
This disease rarely reveals any symptoms. However, in some women there may be some abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially after sexual intercourse. As the cancer progresses, the symptoms may include:
- A watery, bloodstained and offensive-smelling vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
If left untreated, cancer of cervix may spread to the different body organs like the uterus or lymph glands in the pelvis. Eventually, it may further spread to lungs or liver.
If your symptoms indicate that you may be suffering from cancer of the cervix, see your doctor. He may arrange a colposcopy for you, in which the cervix is viewed through a magnifying instrument and checked for abnormal areas. A sample of tissue will probably be taken from the cervix during the procedure and later examined under a microscope to find out the evidence of cancerous cells, if any. Once cancer of the cervix is diagnosed, tests are done to find out the stage in which the cancer is, and if it has spread to other parts of the body. The tests may include X-ray of the chest, MRI, blood tests and CT scan to assess the liver function.
The treatment for the disease depends on two factors: the stage of cancer of cervix and individual circumstances. If the cancer is confined to the cervix and you plan to have children, it may be possible to remove only the affected area of the cervix. If the disease has spread to other parts of the body like uterus and pelvis, there may be a need to remove the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, the top of the vagina and the affected lymph nodes. In case of women who are in their pre-menopausal stage, the ovaries are left if possible because they produce hormones and removing them causes premature menopause, which has many side-effects. If the cancer has spread to other organs of the body, doctors may recommend radiotherapy and chemotherapy.