What are cervical cancer symptoms and causes

cervical-cancer symptoms and causes

Cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer and it is more common in developing countries and cancer occurs at the cell of the cervix. The main cause of cervical cancer, about 99% of cases is due to long-lasting infection of the HPV virus in the cervix. Cervical cancer symptoms include vaginal bleeding, bloody discharge, etc.

HPV virus is a sexually transmitted virus and It affects mostly sexually active women age between 30 to 45 years. If this cancer is detected early then it will be the most successful treatable cancer, long survival, good quality of life.

By regular screening tests and receiving the HPV vaccine, it is possible to reduce the risk of this cancer development.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer at the early stage?

At early-stage cervical cancer no symptom occurs, so to detect at the early state the following screening tests are required

  1. Periodic Pap test required which will inform any changes in the cell of the cervix, that indicates the possible development of cancer.
  2. Pelvic exam.
  3. HPV test.

Warning signs, symptoms of Cervical cancer

cervical cancer symptoms

As we know at the early stage there are no symptoms of cervical cancer but in the advanced stage the symptoms are:

  1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse This is the most common symptom of cervical cancer. While cancer spread to nearby normal tissues then vaginal bleeding occurs after sexual intercourse.
  2. Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods.
  3. Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
  4. Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
  5. Waterly, Bloody, or Brown vaginal discharge which may heavy and have foul-smelling.
  6. Menstrual periods may be heavier and last longer.
  7. Pain during urination and blood in the urine.
  8. Pain & swelling in the leg.
  9. Fatigue, weight loss.

What age does cervical cancer occur?

Cervical cancer is not common in younger people. It occurs in the middle-aged women who are sextually active and of age between 35 to 45 years.

Cervical cancer causes & prevention

Causes:

cervical cancer cause

For about 99% of cases, it occurs due to long-lasting infection of the HPV virus and the other risk factors are

  1. Smoking, it doubles the risk of developing cancer.
  2. Multiple sextual partners. During sextual intercourse, more than 100 HPV viruses can transmit to women and among of them at least 13 may cause of cancer.
  3. Low immune system.
  4. Taking contraceptive pills (pills for birth control) for a long time.
  5. Patients already have sextually transmitted diseases.
  6. Early marriage.

Prevention:

Cervical cancer is the most successfully treatable cancer if it detects at an early stage. So, to detect at early stage regular screening is requiredcervical cancer prevention

  1. Pap test (pap smear test)
  2. HPV screening test
  3. The HPV vaccine, Two vaccines ( Cervarix, Gardasil) are available
  4. Pelvic exam
  5. Not to having sex below age 16 years
  6. Quit smoking
  7. Practicing safe sex.
  8. Boost the immune system.

Cervical Cancer diagnostic procedure

The suspected cervical cancer patient has to go through thorough examination processes 

Pap test(pap smear test):

Pap smear test is also called a Pap test and its full form is Papanicolaou test. In this test small cells collected from the cervix and examined in the lab. The test is performed to find out any abnormal cells( any changes in the cells of cervix) which may be precancerous cells (cancer may develop in future) or cancerous cells.

If abnormal cells are found out in the pap test, the following tests have to perform

Colposcopy:

In this test, the doctor uses an instrument called a colposcope (looks like a microscope) for a close and clear look of the cervix to locate any abnormalities.

It can be done during pregnancy and it is better not to perform during the menstrual period.

Biopsy:

The doctor will remove a small piece of tissue from the cervix and send it to the lab for examination.

If the biopsy result is positive that means the patient has cervical cancer.

The next step is to determine the spread of cancer and which is cancer staging.

The examinations to find out the spread of cancer 

CT Scan:

A high energy x-ray uses to scan the body part and using that ct scan image doctor can determine the spread of cancer to lung, lymph nodes, liver, and other body parts. It is a painless process.

MRI SCAN:

Here a powerful magnetic field is used to scan the body and this scanned image also helps to determine the cancer spread.

CHEST X-RAY:

A plain Chest x-ray image is taken to examine the lung.

PET SCAN:

A radio-isotope combined with glucose ( called FDG ) is injected into the patient’s body through IV injection and the patient is scanned. In this process, patient has to follow some strict instructions. Its a time taking process. With PET SCAN image accurate cancer spread can be find out.

Cervical cancer stages

Cancer staging informs the spread or extent of any cancer to other parts of the body. The choice of the most effective treatment depends on the cancer staging.

According to the FIGO cancer staging system, there are 4 types of cancer staging.

Stage-1: 

  • Cancer is confined to the cervix.
  • Small in size, may be up to 4 cm.
  • Not spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

Stage-2:

  • In this stage, has locoregional spread of cancer.
  • Spread beyond the cervix and uterus.
  • Larger in size, may larger than 4 cm.
  • Not spread to the pelvic side wall or lower part of the vagina.
  • Not spread to nearby lymph nodes and other distant parts of the body.

Stage-3:

  • Cancer spreads to the walls of the pelvis and lower part of the vagina.
  • Cancer may block the ureters which carry urine from the kidney to the bladder.
  • May spread to nearby lymph nodes. It may be in any size.
  • Not spread to distant parts of the body.

Stage-4:

  • Cancer spreads to the Bladder and Rectum.
  • Spread to distant lymph nodes.
  • Spread to distant organs like lung, liver, bones.

Treatment of cervical cancer

The standard treatments are 

  • Surgery
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemo-Therapy

Surgery:

An onco-surgeon removes cancer affected area as much as possible.

Radiation Therapy:

 

radiation therapy

 

  • High energy X-rays or Gamma rays are used for treatment.
  • Radiation, coming out from a big machine, used to irradiate the tumor externally(as per planning).
  • Radiation kills cancerous cells and stops the growth of cancer.
  • It is also used before surgery to reduce the tumor volume and make it easy to operate.
  • Modern EBRT (external beam radiation therapy) treatment modalities are 3D-CRT, VMAT, IMRT, etc.
  • With EBRT, brachytherapy(internal radiation therapy) is also used.
  • In brachytherapy, special applicators are placed and planned.
  • According to planning radioactive source is placed inside or very near the tumor and the required dose is delivered.
  • Radiation therapy is a painless treatment, has side effects.

Chemotherapy:

  • A special powerful drug is used.
  • The drug may be taken as pills orally or through vain.
  • Chemo is given as  cycle.
  • The drug reaches throughout the body and will kill or helps to shrink the tumor.
  • It has side effects.

FAQ:

Who is at risk for cervical cancer?

The younger aged people are very less affected by this cancer,It is very uncommon to younger aged women. It mostly happens to the middle-aged women ( age between 35-45 years) who are sextually active. In 99% of cases, long term HPV infection is the cause. But some factors like smoking, having contraceptive pills(birth control pills) for a long time, have multiple sex partners, etc increase the risk of cervical cancer.

What happens to your body when you have cervical cancer?

At early-stage cancer is confined to the cervix only. In this stage, no other body parts are affected. But as the stage increases more no of organs are affected, in advance stage(stage 4)cancer spreads to lung, bones, liver, etc.

Can you feel cervical cancer with your finger?

During the pelvic exam, the doctor may place one finger to the vagina and another finger rectum to feel any unusual tissue between two organs or nearby of these two organs.

Can I have a baby if I have cervical cancer?

In most of the treatment, the doctor removes the womb and also the patient receives radiotherapy. The womb and ovaries are affected by radiation and may stop working.

Is cervical cancer deadly?

Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable cancer if it is diagnosed at an early stage. But at early-stage cancer no symptoms are seen, so to detect it early the only option is a regular screening test. 

  • Pap smear test
  • Pelvic exam
  • HPV test

Cervical cancer in the advanced stage is deadly.

What should I do if I think I have cervical cancer?

At an early stage, the patient can not feel any symptoms of cervical cancer, but in the advanced stage the symptoms are

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse.
  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods.
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
  • Waterly, Bloody, or Brown vaginal discharge which may heavy and have foul-smelling.
  • Menstrual periods may be heavier and last longer.
  • Pain during urination and blood in the urine.

If the above symptoms occur, you should visit gynecology as soon as possible. If She observes any unusual cells, may advise seeing a specialist.

Is stage 1 cervical cancer curable?

If the patient completes her treatment(with invasive cancer), the 5 years survival rate is 92%. But for advanced stage, cancer spreads to distant body parts, the survival rate is 17%. Cancer spread to nearby organs, tissues, lymph nodes, the survival rate is 56%( approx).

Can cervical cancer be cured completely?

It is often curable at an early stage, but when it is not curable(in advanced stage), try to slow down the progression, prolonging the life span with good quality. For palliative cases, try to reduce symptoms like pain, bleeding.

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