Cervical Cancer

What is Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease affecting girls and women who are sexually active. Human papillomaviruses (HPV) is the virus that causes cervical cancer, and is spread through sexual contact. The American Cancer Association denoted cervical cancer as one of the most common cancer-related death in women several years ago. In fact, cervical cancer is the second highest form of cancer for women worldwide.

How do you get cervical cancer? The billions of cells in the human body have the innate ability to divide to allow growth and repair of damaged tissues. But when a genetic mutation occurs, cell division becomes abnormal, and often uncontrollable. This leads to overgrowth of non-functional cells into a mass called a tumor. Cervical cancer is described as the formation of a tumor in the cervix, the region which connects the vagina to the lower end of the uterus.

Cervical Cancer Statistics

Cervical cancer usually strikes young women and it makes future fertility impossible. In the United States alone, cervical cancer strikes about 10,000 women each year and results in the death of at least 4000 deaths. According to WHO, worldwide, about 50,000 women were effected with this disease in 2005 alone. Cervical cancer was once the amongst the leading cause of death for American women. However, between 1955 and 1992, due to the increased use of Pap test, the rate of death decreased by 74%. Due to advances in screening tests, the death rate from cervical cancer continues to drop by almost 4% every year.

Cervical cancer mostly tends to occur in midlife. It is most common in the 20 to 50 year age group. However, it also effects women over 65 years of age. In fact almost 20% of diagnosed cases involve women above 65 years of age. Cervical cancer also occurs most often in Hispanic women.

Cervical Cancer Types

There are generally two types of cervical cancer.

Preinvasive Cervical Cancer

The preinvasive stage refers to the earliest detectable presence of the disease. At this point, when the abnormality is found out to be cancerous, treatments can immediately be done. This type of cancer is only restricted to the cervix.

Invasive Cervical Cancer

However, when it has progressed to the invasive stage, the growth may have spread to the surrounding organs, such as the uterus, and possibly the ovary. It is possible that ulceration or bleeding can occur, even when in the preinvasive stage. As said before, routine examinations and regular Pap smear tests can help in increasing the survival rate of this disease.

Cervical Cancer Stages

There are mainly four stages of cervical cancer.

Stage 0 Cervical Cancer:

This stage is also called carcinoma in situ In this stage, there are cancerous cells present in the cervix, however, these have not spread away from the point of origin or grown deeper into the cervix tissues. This phase is not invasive and hysterectomy (surgical removal of ureters) may be recommended. During the operation the following organs are removed:

The womb
All the tissues around the womb
The top of the vagina
All the lymph nodes around the womb

Stage 1 Cervical Cancer:

In this stage, the cancer cells have grown deeper into the tissues of the cervix. This stage is further divided into stage 1A and stage 1B. In stage 1A, the cancer is small and can be seen only with a microscope. The cancer has grown between 3 to 5 mm into the tissues of the cervix but measures less than 7mm in width.

In stage 1B, the cancer can measure more than 4cm in width. But the is still contained within the cervix and have not spread to neighboring tissues and organs.
Stage 1 cervical cancer is usually treated with surgery or radiotherapy. However if the cancer is in the more advanced stage, chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be recommended.

Stage 2 Cervical Cancer:

In this stage, the cancer has spread away from the cervix into the neighboring tissues. This stage is further divided into Stage 2A, Stage 2B.
In stage 2A, the cancer may have spread into the top of the vagina but has mostly not spread into the womb. In stage 2B, the cancer has spread into the tissues around the cervix. Stage 2A cervical cancer is treated with both surgery and radiotherapy while a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is recommended in case of stage 2B. This combination of treatment increases the survival rate of stage 2 cancer patients.

Stage 3 Cervical Cancer:

In stage 3, the cancer has spread away from the cervix and the neighboring tissues into the lower part of the vagina and the pelvic wall. In certain cases, it blocks the ureters. This is also divided into stage 3A and 3 B. In stage 3A, the cancer has not yet spread to the pelvic wall. In stage 3B, the cancer has grown through the pelvic wall and might be blocking the tubes that drain the kidney. Radiotherapy and chemotherapy are the recommended treatment methods for this stage of cancer.

Stage 4 Cervical Cancer:

This is the most advanced stage of cervical cancer. In this stage, the cancer has spread to other organs away from the cervix and womb. This stage is divided into Stage 4A and stage 4B. In stage 4A the cancer has spread to organs neighboring the womb and cervix, such as the bladder and rectum. In stage 4B, the cancer cells have started affecting distant organs such as the lungs. Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these are the treatment options.

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer some times have not symptoms at all. In certain cases, symptoms of cervical cancer are mistaken as Post Menstrual Symptoms or ovulation pains. When symptoms for cervical cancer are present, they usually do not appear until the cancer is in advanced stage.

1.Abnormal bleeding Women with cervical cancer may experience abnormal bleeding. This might be heavy or light depending on women to women.
2. Unusual heavy discharge: Women with cervical cancer might also experience an increase in vaginal discharge which might be foul smelling, watery or thick mucus like.
3. Pelvic Pain: Abnormal pelvic pain, that's not part of the menstrual cycle is signs of cervical cancer. It might be a mild discomfort or even a sharp pain, sometimes lasting up to hours.
4. Pain while urinating: A women might also experience balder pain or pain while urinating is she has cervical cancer. This pain occurs when the cancer has spread to the bladder.
5. Pain during sexual intercourse, or bleeding after it is another of the cervical cancer signs.

The signs and symptoms of cervical cancer of cervical cancer are common to many other illness as well. It is therefore important to see a doctor immediately if any of the cervical cancer symptoms are noticed.

Cervical Cancer Prevention

In order to prevent cervical cancer, one should adopt safe sex. Also vaccination is a popular means to prevent cervical cancer.

Cervical Cancer Immunization

Most cases of Cervical Cancer are caused by HPV. The cervical cancer vaccines blocks two types of cancer causing HPV- types 16 and types 18 thereby preventing cervical cancer. This vaccine stops cervical cancer even before a woman can get affected by it. The vaccine also also blocks some additional strains of HPV including type 6 and 11, which are not really associated with cervical cancer but with Pap test abnormalities and genital warts.

When to administer the vaccine for cervical cancer?

The shot for cervical cancer should normally be given to girls between 11 to 12 years of age, although if needed, it might be given to girls as young as 9 years old. If vaccinated at this age, the vaccine provides the highest antibody level, by allowing the girl's immune system to be activated before she catches HPV and thereby offering greatest protection. The vaccine is given over a period of 6 months as a series of three injections, the first and second shot to prevent cervical cancer separated by 2 months, followed four months later by the third injection. In case a girl has not been vaccinated or couldn't complete the full vaccination series, she might avail the catch-up vaccination available for women between 13 to 26 years of age.

Effect of cervical cancer vaccination on sexually active women. The vaccination is effective on women up to 26 years of age who have been sexually active and have been infected by one or more type of HPV. However, the cervical cancer shots is effective only if the woman has not already contacted HPV type 6, 11,16 or 18.

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Side Effects

The vaccination for cervical cancer is remarkably safe , the most common complaint being soreness at the injection site. Mild fever or minor flu-like symptoms also occur sometimes.

The vaccine to prevent cervical cancer does not eliminate the need for Pap tests. Routine cervical cancer screening always remains essential. For women who do not fall into the recommended vaccine group and have not been vaccinated its important to have safe sex since HPV spreads through sexual contact. One should also have limited number of sexual partners. Also smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer. Regular cervical cancer examination reduces the risk of cancer. If any of the cervical cancer symptoms are noticed, its important to contact your doctor immediately.

Cervical Cancer Treatments

When a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, she will learn what stage the cancer is in, and what treatment must be taken to stop the spreading of cancer cells to other areas of the body. There are various treatments for cervical cancer that are available to help fight cervical cancer, such as surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Depending on the severity and location of the cancer, surgery may be an option. To treat the cancer, some portions of the cervix can be removed via surgery. In the most advanced stages of the cancer, a total hysterectomy, the removal of the entire uterus, may be done to prevent the growth from spreading further. This involves the surgical removal of the cervix and other organs of the female reproductive system that have been affected. If a woman has undergone a hysterectomy, she may be unable to become pregnant. Thus, women who accept this treatment of cervical cancer are usually those who no longer wish to have more children, or are older and are going through menopause.

For women who are at high risk because of other health problems, they may be given radiation therapy instead for treating cervical cancer. Radiation therapy involves a beam of radiation being directly targeted on a tumor – this results in all cells in its way, healthy cells as well as cancerous cells, being destroyed. This is called external radiation therapy. In internal radiation therapy, radiation is placed directly into the tumor.

Chemotherapy is one of the most recommended methods for fighting cancer. Chemotherapy is best known by the general population as the cause of hair loss for victims of cancer. Chemotherapy can be taken as injection or pills. The drugs make the cancer cells difficult to grow and spread, however, it also damages the healthy cells as well, and as a result, side effects occur. As previously cited, hair loss is one side effect, as well as nausea, vomiting, fatigue, loss of appetite, and increase of infection because the immune system is so low. The damaged healthy cells will recover over time.

Cervical Cancer Drugs

For cervical cancer, some examples of the drugs administered intravenously are: cisplatin, carboplatin, paclitaxel, and ifosfamide, among others. Support during this difficult time is essential. The cancer sufferer needs to feel that she is not alone, and that things will improve.

Cervical Cancer Risk Factors

Cervical cancer tends to target women over the age of 40. There are factors however that increases the risks of cervical cancer in younger women as well. Not getting regular Pap smears or screening, becoming sexually active at a very young age, smoking, giving birth to too many children, and having many sexual partners are only some of the factors involved. The reality today is that girls as young as 11 are starting to have sex, and so they are as much at risk for developing this disease, as an adult woman. There are HPV injections now available for girls between the ages of 11-14. Many people are hesitant about giving their daughters such a shot, because some think it promotes sexual activity at such a young age. But the reality is that girls are having sex, and it is best to protect them from cancer.

Cervical Cancer Awareness

At the present, the number of deaths of women due to cervical cancer has notably decreased, possibly because of better cervical cancer awareness among patients. Additional statistics suggest that an estimated 11,000 new cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed per year, as of the 2007 report. The reduction in the number of cervical cancer deaths may be attributed to better methods of screening for the disease, such as the Pap smear test. The test examines cell samples scraped from the cervix to determine any abnormalities, infections, or inflammations. The regularity of gynecological exams by more women helps in the early detection of possibly deadly diseases, such as cancer and sexually transmitted infections.

Unfortunately, death from cancer is still a reality, and world cancer societies provide such services for those enduring this disease. Support groups, specialists in pain management, palliative care, doctors, sexuality counselors are all available to help a family suffering from cervical cancer. Be sure to contact your local cancer society for treatment and support.

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