Overview – What is it?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that allows the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus into the vagina and for sperms to enter the uterus during copulation. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells start to grow in the cervix rapidly and uncontrollably. This is mostly caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) which can be transmitted through sex with a person who is infected with the virus.
Some of the symptoms for this cancer are abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during sex and abnormal vaginal discharge. Pap smear test, biopsy and imaging tests are some of the ways through which cervical cancer can be diagnosed.
The treatment for this cancer can be done through surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, among other treatment options.
Cervical cancer can be prevented through practising safe sex, limiting the number of sexual partners and getting immunised against HPV.
Causes – What causes it?
Cervical cancer, unlike most cancers, has a known cause and other risk factors.
- HPV: The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. It is mostly transmitted through sex with an infected person.
The risk factors for this cancer include:
- Having multiple sex partners: Having sex with multiple partners increases the risk of getting cervical cancer because the risk of getting HPV is also increased.
- Not practising safe sex: This happens when a person does not use
- protection during sex which increases the risk of getting HPV and other STIs.
- Starting sexual activity at a very young age: This also increases the risk of contracting HPV which is the main cervical cancer cause.
- Low immunity: This can be caused by infections such as HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections like syphilis and gonorrhoea.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
No symptoms may be experienced during the early stages of cervical cancer. However, as the cancer progresses, the following symptoms may occur:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding between intercourse and after sex
- Watery discharge with a foul smell
- Discomfort during sex
- Urinating frequently
- Pain in the pelvis
- Post-menopausal bleeding
- Heavier menstrual flow than usual
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Physical exam: During this, the doctor gets to know a person’s symptoms and medical history after which a physical exam is done to examine the pelvic.
- Pap test: This also known as a pap smear test and it is used to check for abnormal cells or any cancer cells in the cervix.
- HPV DNA test: This test is used to check for any HPV types that can lead to cervical cancer. This is done by testing cells collected from the cervix.
- Biopsy: It involves taking samples from the cervix and checking for cancer cells under a microscope.
- Imaging tests: These are done to take images of the inside of the cervix using an x-ray machine, computerised tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, the general health of an individual and their age, among other factors. The treatment options for this cancer include:
- Surgery: This is done to remove the tumour depending on what stage the cancer is in. The different surgeries for cervical cancer are:
- Radical hysterectomy: Done to remove the uterus, cervix, part of the vagina and tissues surrounding these organs.
- Modified radical hysterectomy: It involves the removal of the uterus, cervix, upper vagina and tissues around these organs, but fewer than those removed during radical hysterectomy.
- Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy: It is surgery done to remove the ovaries and the fallopian tubes if the cancer has spread to these organs
The other treatments include:
- Chemotherapy: Using a combination of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: This treatment involves using high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells.
- Chemoradiation: It is a combination of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat cervical cancer.
- Targeted therapy: Through this treatment drugs are used to target and destroy the specific cancer cells without causing damage to normal cells in the body.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
- Getting vaccinated for HPV
- Not smoking
- Practising safe sex
- Delaying your first sexual encounter
- Ensuring that you and your sex partner get tested for any STIs before having sex
- Limiting your number of sexual partners
- Getting regular screening for cervical cancer
- Getting treatment for any STIs you may have