Cervical Cancer is a form of cancer that arises from the uterine cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. It results from the abnormal growth of cells; these cells have the ability to spread to/invade other parts of the body. The condition may not be detectable early as there may be no symptoms at all. However, later signs of the disease include vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse.
Signs and Symptoms
The early stages of Cervical Cancer may be free of symptoms. However, symptoms develop when the cancerous cells begin invading surrounding tissues and organs. The most common indicators of the condition include vaginal bleeding, contact bleeding (especially after sexual intercourse) and in rare cases, the presence of a vaginal mass (indicative of a malignancy). The other symptoms of advanced cervical cancer are as follows:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Leg pain
- Swollen legs
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Bone fractures
- Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina (rarely)
Causes of Cervical Cancer
The causes of cervical cancer are narrowed down to the following risk factors:
The Human Papillomavirus
Human papillomavirus (HPV), at its most basic, is a sexually transmitted disease. Specifically, HPV types 16 and 18 cause 75 percent of the cases of Cervical cancer, while HPV types 31 and 45 cause a further 10 percent of the condition in the general populace. Scientists/researchers are of the opinion that HPV provides sufficient grounds for contracting cervical cancer.
Smoking, especially by women who have HPV, increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. For passive smokers, the risk still exists but to a lesser degree. Smoking is considered a facilitator because it engenders the development of Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which is the abnormal growth of squamous cells on the surface of the cervix. When these CIN lesions occur, they facilitate the development of HPV, increasing the chances of developing Cervical Cancer.
Long-term use of oral contraceptives may also predispose individuals to an increased risk of developing Cervical Cancer. Research shows that Women who are HPV positive and have used oral contraceptives for 5 to 9 years have about three times the incidence of invasive cancer, and those who used them for 10 years or longer receive exposure levels at four times the risk.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
The disease manifests itself in the following ways and stages:
Stage 0: This stage is not a true invasive cancer. The abnormal cells are only on the surface of the cervix.
Stage I: There is a small amount of tumor present that has not spread to any lymph nodes, surrounding tissues or distant sites.
Stage II: The cancer has spread beyond the cervix and uterus, but does not invade the pelvic walls or the lower part of the vagina.
Stage III: The cancer has grown into the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis. The tumor may be blocking the ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder). At this stage, however, there is no spread to other organs in the body.
Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage, in which the cancer invades the bladder or rectum, or other sites in other areas of the body.
The general consensus is that early detection prompts early treatment and cure of the condition. The standard method of determining the onset of Cervical Cancer is via a Cervical Screening Test for HPV with examination of the cervix under magnification, with or without the collection of a cervical tissue biopsy. Other investigations may include special radiological imaging. The results help the medical personnel gauge the most appropriate method of treatment.
The treatment of Cervical Cancer depends on a number of factors including the extent of the spread of the cancer. Medical specialists that may are usually involved in the treatment of cervical cancer include a Gynaecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist as well as medical oncologist.
The treatment options available include:
Surgery is often the recommended path to remove the cancer, especially in early-stage tumors. Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) may be performed, but other procedures are also considered, that preserve the ability of the patient to have a baby.
Radiation therapy is another common treatment for cervical cancer. It may involve the use of external beam radiation therapy (radiation administered from an outside source of radiation) and brachytherapy (radiation therapy that involves the insertion of radioactive sources near the tumor for a fixed length of time). Depending on the extent of the condition, it is not uncommon for the two forms to be deployed at the same time.
Chemotherapy may be used in conjunction with radiation therapy. It is often deployed in cases when the cervical cancer returns after an earlier treatment.
Targeted therapy involves the use of drugs that have been specifically developed to interrupt/disrupt the cellular processes that promote the growth of cancer cells.
You can make an appointment with Dr Kenny on 07 3188 5000.
This article is written to be informative and does not substitute seeking a professional consultation from a medical professional.