Cases of Cervical cancer, one of the most common forms of cancer in women, are on a steady rise in the country, accounting for many deaths that could be prevented. Shockingly our country accounts for nearly 1/3rd of the global cervical cancer deaths. Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix that is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina, sometimes referred to as the neck of the womb.
Various strains of HPV, the Human papillomavirus which is a sexually transmitted infection are one of the major and most common factors of cervical cancer cases. When a body has been exposed to this, although the immune system prevents the virus from causing harm, it is still found that in certain people, this virus survives for years, and is responsible for some cervical cells becoming cancerous cells. When the cells do not die or continue dividing, thus resulting in abnormal growth or uncontrolled division, that leads to formation of lump or tumour, resulting in cancer.
What are the signs?
In the early stages of the cancer, one might not even experience any symptoms or show any possible signs of cancer at all. Women are hence often advised to get regular Cervical Smear tests or Pap Tests.
Pap tests are usually just preventive tests that might not be able to detect the cancer, but can provide insights if there are any cell changes that could possibly be an indication of cancer development, so that necessary action can be taken at the earliest.
Some of the most common symptoms following cervical cancer include-
- Heavy vaginal discharge following a foul odour
- Pain in the pelvic region
- Experiencing discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Vaginal discharge with blood
- Bleeding after menopause
While these signs can also be due to an infection in the body, anyone experiencing these, should have themselves examined, or consult an expert at the earliest.
Kinds of the cervical cancer
The correct diagnosis and effective treatment following the diagnosis can be done, if the type of cervical cancer can be known. The main types are
- Squamous cell carcinoma- this begins in the thin and flat cells that line the outer part of the cervix. Mostly cervical cancers are this kind.
- Adenocarcinoma- this begins in the column shaped glandular cells that line the cervical canal.
Being aware of the type of cancer that one is suffering from, and starting appropriate treatment at an early stage, can help save life.
Treatment and prevention
Knowing which stage of cancer a person is on, helps decide the best treatment. Taking quick and assured steps to prevent the spread can adversely increase the chances of survival for a person. Cervical cancer is based on a 4 stage system. Basically these stages aim to inform, how far has the cancer spread, if it has spread to the distant organs or is under control.
Stage 0, where the precancerous cells are present.
Stage 1, cancer cells have penetrated into the uterus and the nearby lymph nodes.
Stage 2, cancer goes beyond the cervix and the uterus.
Stage 3, cancer cells found in the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis.
Stage 4, spreads to the distant organs, affects the bladder or the rectum.
The possible treatments include surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. A doctor may also recommend colposcopy, i.e. the visual examination of the vagina using a magnifying instrument, or biopsy, CT Scan and/or cone biopsy, where the doctor takes a small cone shaped section of the abnormal tissue from the affected cervix for examination. Some of these might have an after effect; hence it is best advised to go to the doctor at the earliest signs of cancer. An expert can tell you based on the symptoms and stage of the cancer, what would be the best treatment moving forward, how to take care of the body, and overall health post diagnosis etc.
How can you prevent it?
The risk of cervical cancer depends on the number of sexual partners, age at first intercourse, and sexual behavior of the woman’s male partner. Additional risk indicators for cervical cancer are number of live births, long-term use of oral contraceptives, and smoking.
While certain precautions have to be taken, these might not eliminate the cancer cells, but can surely reduce the risk associated with the same-
- Practice safe sex: Limiting the number of sexual partners and taking correct measures to prevent oneself from sexually transmitted infections, because the transmission of the HPV usually occurs as a result of coming in contact with a person who has HPV.
- Get vaccinated: Ask your doctor for getting the HPV vaccine, which can reduce the risk and infection of cervical cancer.
- Quit smoking: Smoking not only aggravates cervical cancer but is also responsible for other kinds of cancers.
- Cervical cancer screening: Apart from the regular Pap tests, it is also important to get screening done, to identify and deal with the disease, before it gets late.
The earlier the diagnosis is done, the better is the success rate of the following treatment and hence better are the chances of survival. Being a little aware of the body, taking care of it and getting your facts right, can go a long way in contributing to a healthy and safe life.
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