What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the part of the uterus facing the vagina. Therefore, cervical cancer is cancer in the cervix, and it is caused by an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the mucus membrane. The reason for this abnormality is changes in the cells’ DNA (genetic material) located in the cell nucleus. This results in a changed appearance and changed growth pattern, which is the precursor to cancer development. The disease can be divided into four stages depending on how much the cancer has spread. It is most frequently detected during a routine pelvic examination, which is offered to women in the UK, aged 25-49, every three years.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Bleeding during sexual intercourse or physical activity but it may later become ongoing
- Pain in the abdomen
- Constriction or closure of the urinary tract, restricting you from passing water causing pain in the flanks.
It is important to emphasise that these symptoms may indicate various other things than cancer, but should you experience any of them, it is recommended to consult a doctor.
What are the causes?
Cervical cancer is caused by a virus infection called ‘Human Papilloma Virus’ (HPV). Many types of this disease exist, but only a few of them are capable of infecting humans and cause cell changes. Further, the virus is sexually transmittable. The cell changes are often reversible, which means that they disappear again, and that the tissue remains normal. However, some changes are permanent, and these can cause a development of cervical cancer. The risk of cervical cancer increases with the number of sexual partners you have had, as the risk of having been intimate with an infected person thus increases. In addition, smoking also increases the risk.
What are the treatments?
Treatment depends on the patient’s degree of cervical cancer. If it is a precursor to cancer, a procedure called ‘conisation’ can remove the cells that are only slightly changed. When cancer has occurred, the course of treatment will vary in each situation. Treatment may involve operating to remove the uterus and nearby lymph nodes as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The earlier the disease is detected and treatment initiated, the better the long-term prospects. Cervical cancer is a deadly disease, and the symptoms should thus be taken seriously. The further the stage, the greater the mortality.