Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the narrow part of the lower uterus that connects to the vagina. It’s often referred to as the neck of the womb.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
It begins when healthy cells in the cervix develop mutations in their DNA. A cell’s DNA contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. In the case of mutations, the cells grow and multiply out of control, and they do not die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass or tumor. Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread or metastasize elsewhere in the body.
It isn’t clear what causes cervical cancer, but HPV certainly plays a role. HPV is very common, and most people with the virus never develop cancer. Other factors, however — such as your environment or your lifestyle choices — also determine whether you’ll develop cervical cancer.
When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing any harm, but in a small percentage of people, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancer cells.
You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Too many sexual partners.
- Early sexual activity.
- A weakened immune system: The risk of cervical cancer is higher in those with HIV or AIDS, and people who have undergone a transplant, leading to the use of immunosuppressive medications.
- Birth control pills: Long-term use of some common contraceptive pills slightly raises a woman’s risk.
- Socio-economic status: Rates appear to be higher in areas where income is low.
- Exposure to miscarriage prevention drug while in-vitro.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Symptoms begin to appear as the cancer advances.
Most common symptoms are:
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Bleeding in post-menopausal women
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Vaginal discharge with a strong odor
- Vaginal discharge tinged with blood
- Pelvic pain
These symptoms can have other causes, including infections. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor.
To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:
- Find out from your Doctor if the HPV vaccine is appropriate for you and get vaccinated.
- Have routine Pap tests. A Pap test is preventive. It aims not to detect cancer but to reveal any cell changes that indicate the possible development of cancer so that a person can take early action to treat it.
- 21 – 65 years – A Pap test every 3 years
- 30 – 65 years – Women who want to lengthen the screening interval should take a combination of Pap test and HPV test every 5 years.
- Practice safe sex.
- Don’t smoke.
To confirm your eligibility for Pap test, download the Hygeia Mobile App, create a profile, activate it and confirm.
Cervical cancer treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or combinations of these.
Deciding on the kind of treatment depends on several factors, such as the stage of cancer, age and the overall state of health.