Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower, narrow opening of the uterus . It leads from the uterus to the vagina.
In general, cervical cancer takes years to manifest. During this time, the cells of the cervix change and grow rapidly. The first (precancerous) changes that occur before it develops into fully developed cancer are called “dysplasia” or “cervical intraepithelial neoplasia” (CIN). If these changes are detected and treated, cervical cancer can be prevented. Without diagnosis or treatment, cervical cancer can spread to other parts of the body and become deadly.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms:
Usually, cervical cancer in its initial phase produces no signs or symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer at a more advanced stage include the following:
- Vaginal bleeding without apparent cause and outside of menstruation
- Altered vaginal discharge , with bad odor or brown coloration, for example
- Constant abdominal or pelvic pain , which may worsen when going to the bathroom or during intimate contact
- Sensation of pressure in the bottom of the belly
- You want to urinate more often , even during the night
- Rapid weight loss without dieting
In the most severe cases, in which the woman has advanced cervical cancer, other symptoms may still arise such as excessive tiredness, pain and swelling in the legs, as well as involuntary loss of urine and stool.
You should inform your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. When these symptoms appear, it is important to talk about them with the doctor even when they resemble the symptoms of other, less serious diseases. Early diagnosis and treatment, especially in the early stages of cancer or in the precancerous stage, improve the chances of preventing or curing cancer.
What are the causes of cervical cancer?
Certain types of human papillomavirus ( HPV ), the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD), cause cervical cancer.
There are more than 200 types of HPV. Most of them are not harmful and disappear on their own. But at least a dozen types of HPV can remain in the body and sometimes cause cancer. Two in particular cause the majority of cases of cervical cancer. These types are called high-risk HPV.
Because HPV is such a common infection that it usually goes away on its own, in most cases it goes unnoticed. If you discover that you have one of the high-risk types of HPV, do not be scared. It does not mean that you have cancer. It means you have a type of HPV that may cause cancer in the future. That’s why early detection is so important.
How common is cervical cancer?
Each year, about 13,000 cases of this cancer are diagnosed in the United States. There are approximately 4,000 deaths per year due to cervical cancer.
In addition to HPV, there are other factors that can increase the risk of cervical cancer. These include:
- Personal history of cervical, vaginal or vulvar dysplasia
- Family history of cancer
- Other infections, such as chlamydia
- Immune system problems, such as HIV / AIDS , that make it harder to fight infections such as HPV
- Age is also a factor. The average age at which this type of cancer is diagnosed is 48 years. Very rarely affects children under 20 years.
Having said all that, anyone with a cervix is at risk of cervical cancer. So it does not matter who you sleep with or what your gender identity is, it is important that you take care of your cervical health.
What can I do to prevent cervical cancer?
To reduce the risk:
- Get regular health checkups. The Pap test and the HPV test detect abnormal changes in the cervix so that they can be treated before the cancer develops. In general, you should get the first Pap test at age 21 and, after that, perform medical evaluations every 3-5 years that include a combination of pap smears and HPV tests. The doctor or nurse can tell you what tests you need and how often you should do them.
- Apply the HPV vaccine and advise those around you to do the same. There are 3 brands of the HPV vaccine (also known as the cervical cancer vaccine). HPV vaccines are administered in a series of 3 applications over 6 months.
- Use condoms or latex oral barriers every time you have vaginal, anal or oral sex. This helps decrease the chances of HPV transmission.
- If you smoke, quit the habit. If you have a high-risk type of HPV and smoke, you are more likely to have cervical cancer.