Cervical cancer is the type of cancer which starts from the cells of the cervix. Cervix is the narrow part of the lower uterus that connects the vagina and is often referred to as the neck of the womb.
Sexually transmitted infection like human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a major role in the development of cervical cancer. HPV survives for a few years in the woman’s body even though the immunity system prevents it from doing any harm, the virus contributes to the process of transforming some cells on the surface of the cervix to cancer cells.
So, women should be cautious of any possible HPV infection and in order to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer, they should have regular screening tests and get vaccinations to prevent the HPV infection.
The symptoms of cervical cancer are
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Vaginal discharge with strong odour
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Vaginal discharge tinged with blood
- Pelvic pain
These symptoms can also caused by other infections and not necessarily cancer. So, it is important to consult a doctor if you observe any of these symptoms.
However, in the early stages of cervical cancer, no signs and symptoms are observed but the symptoms are developed in the more advanced cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is developed because of the mutation in the genes of the cells on the surface of the cervix, and causes them to turn in to abnormal cancerous cells.
As the cancer cells grow and multiply in an irregular way and not die, the cells accumulate and form a tumour. These cancer cells also invade surrounding tissues and metastasize anywhere in the body.
Even though the causes for cervical cancer are unclear, it is certain that HPV plays a major role. Other factors like lifestyle, living environment.
Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer
Even though the actual reasons for cervical cancer are unknown, there are still some risk factors for cervical cancer which includes:
Numerous sexual partners: The risk of developing cervical cancer increases with the increase in number of your sexual partners as it increases the chance of getting HPV infection.
Early sexual activity: Having sex at an early age increases the chance of getting HPV infection.
Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of developing cervical cancer along with other types of cancers. Smoking is associated with the squamous cell cervical cancer.
Weak immune system: The risk of cervical cancer is high in those with people whose immune system is already weakened by some other infections or with HIV/AIDS or people who had undergone a transplant leading to the use of immunosuppressive medications.
Birth Control pills: Using some contraceptive pills for a long period increases the risk of cervical cancer.
STDs: Sexually Transmitted Diseases like Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
Types of Cervical Cancer
Identifying the type of cancer is also an important factor in deciding the treatment plan. There are mainly two types of cervical cancers like
Squamous cell carcinoma: This type of cancer starts from the thin, flat cells lining the outer part of the cervix protecting the vagina. Most of the cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
Adenocarcinoma: This type of cervical cancer develops from the column shaped glandular cells lining the cervical canal.
In some of the cases, both the cell types are associated with the cervical cancer. In some very rare occurrences cancer develops in other than the mentioned two cells in the cervix.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
Determining the stage of cancer is important to decide the most effective treatment plan for the patient. Staging the cancer is critical in assessing the spread of cancer and to determine whether it has reached any vital organs or not.
The most common way to stage the cervical cancer is the 4-stage system. It is used as a reference in staging cervical cancer.
In the onset of cancer, precancerous cells will be present. After the start of development of cervical cancer, the stages will be as follows:
Stage 1: In this stage, the cancer cells will have been grown into the deeper tissue of the cervix from the surface of the cervix. It can also spread into the uterus and to the surrounding lymph nodes.
The chance of survival in this stage is quite high and it is around 93 per cent survival chance for at least another 5 years if the cancer in diagnosed in the early stage 1 and it is 80 per cent if it is diagnosed in the late stage 1.
Stage 2: In this stage, the cancer will have been spread beyond the cervix and uterus but not as far as the walls of the pelvis and the lower parts of the vagina. In this stage, there is no certainty on the effects on lymph nodes.
In this stage, the chance of surviving another 5 years is 63 per cent if the cancer is diagnosed in the early stage and the survival rate reduces to 58 per cent if diagnosed by the end of stage 2.
Stage 3: In this stage, the cancer cells are present in the lower parts of the vagina and the walls of the pelvis and it may also block the uterus, some parts of urinary bladder. The effect on lymph nodes is uncertain in this stage.
In this stage, the chance of survival is 35 percent if diagnosed in the early stage and it reduces to 32 percent if diagnosed at the end of the stage.
Stage 4: In this stage, the cancer spreads beyond the pelvic region and affects the bladder, rectum and spread to the distant organs in the body including liver, lungs, bones and lymph nodes.
The rate of survival in this stage is as low as 15- 16 per cent.
The reason why women at a certain age should screen for any possible cancer developments because there will be no symptoms until the cancer reaches latter stages. Early diagnosis is the factor which improves the chances of survival as it ensures early treatment.