What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus or womb. The cervix connects the the uterus to the vagina. In most cases, cervical cancers start with cell changes and do not suddenly turn into cancer, but gradually develop pre-cancerous changes that later may turn into cancer. These changes can be detected by the Pap Smear and treated to prevent cancer from developing.
Only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will actually develop cancer. Generally, it takes many years for cervical pre-cancer to change into cervical cancer, but in rare cases, it can happen in less than a year. For most, pre-cancerous cells disappear without any treatment, but some women will see their pre-cancers turn into invasive cancers. This is why it is so important to go for regular screening (Pap Smear ) for early diagnosis of all cervical pre-cancers. If pre-cancer of the cervix is found early, almost all cervical cancers can be prevented.
If you haven’t been for a Pap Smear test recently, please contact us or make an appointment as soon as you can and we will be happy to help! Pap Smear is part of our comprehensive and affordable package deals currently on offer at Khema International Clinic.
Early cervix cancer and/or pre-cancers don’t usually give any symptoms. A woman won’t usually feel or notice any symptoms until the cancer becomes invasive. The following symptoms or signs are, at that stage, common:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, e.g. after vaginal sex; bleeding or spotting between periods; bleeding after menopause; and having longer or heavier periods;
- Unusual discharge from the vagina that may have blood between periods or after menopause;
- Pain during vaginal sex.
If you have any of these symptoms, are worried or want to talk to an OBYGYN specialist, don’t hesitate to contact us or make an appointment
Risk factors for cervical cancer include both biological- and non-biological factors. These include:
- Human Papilloma Virus: The most important risk factor for cervical cancer to be aware of is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The HPV is a group consisting of over 100 different, but related, viruses. A few of these cause growths or warts called papillomas. The HPV is spread through skin-to-skin contact and is most often spread sexually. Approximately 2/3 of all cervical cancer can be traced to two HPV viruses (HPV 16 and 18).
- Smoking: Smoking is a risk factor as chemicals inhaled from the smoke can seriously damage the body’s organ, including the female reproductive system. Studies show that a woman that smokes runs twice the risk of developing cervical cancer compared to a woman who doesn’t smoke.
- A weakened immune system: Women who live with HIV are at higher risk of contracting HPV due to lowered immune system. Pre-cancer in the cervix ay also more rapidly develop into invasive cervical cancer in an HIV-positive woman.
- Diet: Women who don’t eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit may increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Overweight: A woman with a very high body mass index (BMI) and who are classified as obese are also at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Long-term use of oral contraceptive: Some studies suggest that long-term use (over ten years) may increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer. The same studies also suggest that, after stopping oral contraceptives, the risk decreases again. Risks should be discussed with your doctor before making any decisions about oral contraceptives.
- Multiple full-term pregnancies: Women who have had at least three full-term pregnancies are at slightly higher risk of developing cervical cancer
- Younger than 17 years old at first full-term pregnancy: A woman who carries a baby to term and who is younger than 17 years old at delivery are at slightly higher risk of developing cervical cancer
- Family history of cervical cancer: if your mother or sister have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, then you are also at higher risk of this kind of cancer.
The best way to find cervical cancer early is to go for regular screening, e.g. a Pap-Smear test, which will be able to detect pre-cancers of the cervix before developing into invasive cancer. Being aware of signs and symptoms of cervical cancer may also help avoid delays in diagnosis and treatment. Early detection significantly improves chances of successful treatment as well as prevent cell changes from becoming cancerous.
If your Pap-Spear test show abnormalities or if you have symptoms of cervical cancer, your doctor will request further tests for a proper diagnosis.
Diagnosis of cancer
Your doctor may order some tests if you have symptoms that suggest cervical cancer. If you receive a diagnosis of invasive cancer, your doctor will refer you to a specialist who focuses in cancers of women's reproductive systems. The test needed may include:
- Medical history and a physical exam (pelvic exam; check of lymph nodes for spread);
- Colposcopy (exam of cervix and possible biopsy);
- Cervical biopsies
If a biopsy show that you have cervical cancer, further tests may be done for proper staging diagnosis or the spread of the cancer.