As per the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. With the incidence of the disease increasing worldwide, it has become crucial to understand the various aspects of the diseases and what one can do to beat the condition.
Cancer is a disease that begins when cells in any part of the body begin to grow uncontrollably. Cervical cancer is one that begins in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus which opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer is one of the preventive cancers if detected early. The condition develops very slowly which begins as a condition called dysplasia; the abnormal development/growth of a tissue.
The condition is caused due to infection of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). There are various kinds of HPV’s, however cervical cancer is caused due to infection caused specifically by types 16 and 18. Not all types of HPV viruses cause cervical cancer, some cause conditions like genital warts. Unlike many other cancers for which there is no designated cause, we know the exact causative factor of cervical cancer. Most adult women would have been affected by the HPV virus at some point in their life. In most cases, the infection goes away on its own without any treatment. However, in some cases the infection stays for prolonged periods, leading to cervical cancer. In addition to the HPV, unhealthy lifestyle practices like smoking also puts a woman at the risk of developing cervical cancer.
Gynecologists recommend Pap smear tests in women over 30 years of age in order to diagnose any changes in the cervical cells. The tests also need to be repeated between intervals of 3-5 years.
An early detected change in the cervix can be treated. The condition is mainly diagnosed in women who are in their mid-thirties. There are rather rare occurrences of cervical cancer in women in their early twenties and under.
Changes in the cervical cells do not depict any recognizable symptoms. However, once these changes manifest into cervical cancer, one may experience the following symptoms:
- Pain during urination & intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding after menopause
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
The aforementioned symptoms are not specific to cervical cancer and may be caused due to other gynecological conditions, however, any delay in visiting a gynecologist puts you at risk.
Cervical cancer is one that can be prevented if diagnosed in the early stages. Women must ensure regular pap screenings in order to avoid progression of any changes in the cervix. Cervical cancer being preventable cancer, women must ensure to take all the necessary preventive measures. In addition to the pap smear test, there are also additional vaccinations that can be taken against HPV, however, the condition can only be prevented to a certain extent with vaccinations.
Similar to cancers of other forms, the treatment for cervical cancer also depends on the stage of diagnosis. Surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are the various modes of treatment upon diagnosis.