What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when cells in the cervix are not normal and continue to grow uncontrollably. The abnormal cells can develop quickly, resulting in tumors in the cervix. A malignant tumor later will develop into a cause of cervical cancer.
How common is cervical cancer?
According to records of the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women around the world. Furthermore, the WHO also observed that the incidence of this cancer is greater in developing countries than in developed countries. However, routine Pap smear tests can help to detect this cancer early. So, it can be cured.
This condition can also occur in patients of any age. However, the more you age, the greater your risk of developing cervical cancer. This cancer also can be treated by reducing risk factors. Discuss it with your doctor for more information.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
What are the characteristics and symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages, women with early cervical cancer and pre-cancer will not experience the symptoms. This is because this cancer does not show symptoms until the tumor is formed. The tumor then pushes the surrounding organs and disrupts healthy cells. Cervical cancer symptoms can be characterized by the following characteristics:
- Unusual bleeding from the vagina. For example, bleeding when you are not menstruating, longer periods, bleeding after or during sex, after menopause, after bowel movements, or after the pelvic examination
- Menstrual cycles become irregular
- Pain in the pelvis (in the lower abdomen)
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the waist (lower back) or legs
- Limp body and easily tired
- Decreased weight when not on a diet
- Loss of appetite
- Abnormal vaginal fluids, such as strong odor or with blood
- One foot swelled up
There are several other conditions such as infection which can cause various characteristics of this cancer. However, whatever the cause, you still have to visit a doctor to see it.
Ignoring the possibility of cervical cancer symptoms will only make the condition worse and lose the opportunity for effective treatment. There may be signs and symptoms that are not mentioned above. If you have a concern about a specific symptom, consult your doctor.
When should I see a doctor?
If you show some of the symptoms above or other questions, consult your doctor. Each person’s body is different. Always consult a doctor to treat your health condition and check yourself for any signs of cervical cancer.
In fact, all women, especially those who are married or sexually active, should see a doctor to get tested and get an HPV vaccine. There is no need to wait for new symptoms to seek medical help. Women over the age of 40 are also advised to see a doctor and have regular pap smears. The reason is, the more you age the more vulnerable you are to this cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes
What causes cervical cancer?
Almost all cases are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). There are more than one hundred types of HPV, but so far there are only about 13 types of viruses that can cause this cancer. This virus is often transmitted through sexual contact.
In a woman’s body, this virus produces two types of proteins, namely E6 and E7. Both of these proteins are dangerous because they can deactivate certain that play a role in stopping tumor development.
Both of these proteins also trigger the aggressive growth of uterine wall cells. This unnatural cell growth eventually causes gene changes also known as gene mutations. This gene mutation then becomes the cause of cervical cancer develops in the body.
Some types of HPV do not cause symptoms at all. However, some types can cause genital warts and some can cause cancer. Only doctors can diagnose and determine how dangerous the type of HPV you are experiencing.
Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to play a role in 70% of cervical cancer cases. This type of HPV infection does not cause any symptoms. So, many women do not realize they have an infection. In fact, most adult women actually host of HPV at some point in their lives.
HPV can be easily found through a Pap smear test. This is why a Pap smear test is very important to prevent cervical cancer. Pap smear tests are able to detect differences in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. If you handle these cell changes, you can protect yourself from cervical cancer.
So far, HPV is known to be the main cause of cervical cancer. However, there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of getting this cancer, even if you do not have a history of HPV infection. The following are some risk factors for cervical cancer:
- Human Papilloma Virus infection. Having sexual relations with multiple partners can increase your risk of contracting HPV 16 and 18 as well as risky sexual behavior such as unprotected sex or sharing the same sex toys. In addition, women who have never gotten a vaccine (immunization) of HPV are certainly more susceptible to being infected with HPV.
- Smoking. Tobacco contains many chemicals that are not good for the body. Women who smoke have a risk of up to 2 times greater than non-smokers in developing this cancer.
- Immunosuppression. People with conditions that affect the immune system such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). The virus that causes AIDS can increase the risk of HPV infection and cause cervical cancer.
- Chlamydia infection. Several studies have shown women who are having chlamydia infection have a higher risk.
- Lack of consumption of fruits and vegetables. Women who have unhealthy eating patterns, for example rarely eat fruits and vegetables, may have a higher risk.
- Overweight or obesity. Women who are overweight are more prone to have adenocarcinoma of the cervix.
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills). A number of studies have shown that taking oral contraceptives or birth control pills for more than five years can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Recent research also has found that women who use intrauterine devices (IUDs) to prevent pregnancy have a lower risk of this cancer.
- Several times pregnant and giving birth. Women who have been pregnant until giving birth (not miscarriage) 3 times or more have a higher risk.
- Pregnant or give birth at a very young age. Very young means under 17 years when pregnant and giving birth for the first time. Women who are younger than 17 years during first pregnancy (not miscarriage) are twice as susceptible to this cancer.
- Poverty. Although a person’s economic situation does not necessarily cause this cancer, poverty is very likely to hinder women’s access to services and adequate health education, including Pap smears.
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES is a hormonal drug given to women to prevent miscarriage. Mothers who use this drug during pregnancy have a greater risk of cervical cancer. Girls who are born also have a greater risk. This drug has not been prescribed for pregnant women since the 1980s. However, those of you who have been pregnant or were born before 1980 are still at risk of developing this cancer.
- Heredity. If your family has this cancer, you are two times more susceptible to cervical cancer than people who do not have hereditary cancer. The problem is gene mutations that cause this cancer can be passed down to the next generation.
- Age. Women under the age of fifteen have the lowest risk of this cancer. While the risk is increasing in women aged over 40 years.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice. ALWAYS consult your doctor.
How to diagnose cervical cancer?
Doctors usually use Pap smear tests to diagnose. The doctor can do other tests to see cancer cells or pre-cancerous cervix if Pap smear test shows malfunctioning cell changes such as biopsy.
Your doctor can refer you to a gynecologist (female reproductive system health experts), if the test results indicate an abnormality, the doctor sees growth in the cervix, and if you have abnormal bleeding.
It is important to know that bleeding from women does not always mean cervical cancer. Chlamydia is one of the reasons why women experience unusual vaginal bleeding. Your doctor may recommend that you do a test before being referred.
Some tests that may be needed to confirm if you have cervical cancer are:
- Colposcopy. This procedure is carried out with a small microscope with a light source at the tip to examine your cervix.
- Cone biopsy. This small procedure is carried out under anesthesia. A small cone-shaped portion of the cervix will be removed for examination. After that, you may experience vaginal bleeding for up to four weeks after the procedure. You can also experience pain such as menstruation.
If the doctor believes that you have symptoms of cervical cancer, the doctor will then check the severity of the condition (stage) of cancer. The test can include the following.
- Check the uterus, vagina, rectum, and urine if there is cancer. This procedure is done with anesthesia.
- Blood tests to check the conditions around organs such as bones, blood, and kidneys.
- Imaging tests (scanning) with the technology of Computerized tomography (CT) scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, X-ray, and Positive emission tomography (PET) scan. The purpose of this test is to identify cancerous tumors and when cancer cells have spread (metastasis).
Cervical Cancer Treatment
The treatment is quite complicated. The hospital will prepare a team of experts who are determined to overcome the initial and advanced stages of this cancer. Usually, there are 3 main treatments for cervical cancer.
This action will remove the infected part of cancer. You and your medical team must work together for the best results:
- Radical trachelectomy, surgery to remove the cervix. The surrounding tissue and the upper part of the vagina are removed, but the uterus remains. So you can still have children. That is why this surgery is a priority for women who have early-stage cervical cancer and still want to have children.
- Hysterectomy – the cervix and uterus are removed depending on the stage of cancer. It may be necessary to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes. You can no longer have children if you have a hysterectomy.
- Pelvic exenteration – a major operation in which the cervix, vagina, uterus, urine, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and rectum are removed. Like hysterectomy, you cannot have any more children after this surgery.
In the early stages, you can be treated with radiotherapy or combined with surgery. Then, if the cancer is at an advanced stage, doctors can recommend radiotherapy with chemotherapy to reduce bleeding and pain in patients.
In this procedure, your body is exposed to radiation. The source of radiation can come from externally with a machine that emits radiation to your body or internally. With internal methods, an implant will be installed into your body to give radiation. There are several cases where these 2 methods are combined. This series of radiotherapy usually lasts for 5 to 8 weeks.
Chemotherapy can be used alone or in combination with radiotherapy. In advanced cancer, this method is often used to prevent cancer growth. You will make an appointment to get a dose of chemotherapy through an infusion.
All treatments for cervical cancer can have side effects. You should discuss it with your doctor first. You may experience early menopause, narrowing of the vagina or lymphedema after undergoing the treatment.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
What can be done to prevent cervical cancer?
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Here are lifestyles changes that can help you prevent cervical cancer:
- Talking with family, friends or counselors. You can also ask your doctor about the community of survivors and cervical cancer sufferers.
- A Pap smear test is the best way to find changes in cervical cells or HPV in the cervix. It is important to follow up with your doctor after abnormal Pap smear test results. So you can get the treatment on time.
- If you are under 26 years old, you can get an HPV vaccine that can protect against HPV 16 and HPV 18.
- Avoid getting infected with HPV by having safe sex, using condoms, and not changing sexual partners.
- To prevent cancer from developing into more serious stages, you need to live a healthier lifestyle. For example, by maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet, exercising diligently according to the ability and advice of doctors, adequate rest, managing stress, stopping smoking and drinking alcohol, and reducing exposure to harmful substances such as from pollution, pesticides, and packaged foods.
If you have further questions, consult your doctor for the best solution for your problem.