What is Cervical Cancer? | Early signs, Stages, Diagnosis, Treatment and More
.It's made me hypersensitive to other things to get checked. And I remember one of the oncologists said to me when I was going back to work, 'You need to get some sleep and not stress out.'"
⦁ Erin Andrews
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix) is the second most common cancer found in women worldwide (obviously, breast cancer being on top of the list) caused by a sexually transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
Did you know, 16.5% of the total cancer cases in Indian women are of cervical cancer. Also, about almost 160 million women between the ages of 30 and 59 years are at a high risk of developing cervical cancer in India, with 96,922 new cases registered in 2018 alone.
A study showed that only 44.5 % of the women were aware of cervical cancer, and 18% were aware of screening. In contrast, in a survey conducted in rural Kerala, almost three-fourth of the study population was aware of signs and symptoms of cervical cancer and its screening.
Early signs and symptoms of cervical cancer
Although according to the studies, cervical cancer is always diagnosed when it's too late, if an individual suffers from the following signs and symptoms of cervical cancer, you should go and get it checked.
⦁ Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods.
⦁ Menstrual bleeding is longer and heavier than usual.
⦁ Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination.
⦁ Increased vaginal discharge.
⦁ Pain during sexual intercourse.
⦁ Bleeding after menopause.
⦁ Unexplained, persistent pelvic and back pain.
Cervical cancer has four stages:
Stage 1: The cancer is small. It may have spread to the lymph nodes. It hasn't spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 2: The cancer is more extensive. It may have spread outside of the uterus and cervix or to the lymph nodes. It still hasn't reached other parts of your body.
Stage 3: Cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or the pelvis. It may be blocking the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It hasn't spread to other parts of your body.
Stage 4: Cancer may have spread outside of the pelvis to organs like your lungs, bones, or liver.
Does it affect the rest of the body too?
Of course, it is not only limited to the tissue of the cervix; cancer tends to make new friends very quickly in our body so that it can metastasise to other parts as well if it is not diagnosed in its earliest stage.
Why is it always too late?
According to the studies, a country which has a low socio-demographic index has a high number of women suffering.
Approximately two-thirds (65.97%) of the cases presented in advanced stages of cervical cancer- because of the level of health education, age of menarche, knowledge about screening.
High levels of illiteracy among women and their problematic health-seeking behaviour for gynaecological symptoms are responsible for late diagnosis of cervical cancer.
With the absence of routine gynaecologist check-ups, regular screenings, and minimum awareness about the sanitation and infections lead to the growth in the above results.
To diagnose the disease, various tests will be done to find out the following:
⦁ To confirm the type of cancer
⦁ To find out if it has/not spread to the other body parts known as metastasis.
Various factors will be considered before using diagnostic tests.
⦁ Type of cancer suspected
⦁ Signs and symptoms
⦁ Age, medical and another history
The following tests can be used:
Bimanual pelvic examination:
In this doctor will check for unusual changes in the body of her cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries, and other nearby organs.
In this, the doctor scrapes the outside of the cervix and vagina and takes samples of cells for testing.
HPV typing test:
Similar to that pap test. A sample of cells is taken for testing from the patient's cervix. The presence of HPV16 and HPV18 is most commonly seen with the women's suffering from cervical cancer.
It is done to examine the cervix for abnormal areas. The colposcope is used which magnifies the cells of the vagina and cervix, which gives a clear and lighted vision to the doctor.
It is the process of removal of a small amount of tissue which is examined under the microscope.
Pelvic examination under anaesthesia:
This is done to check whether or not cancer has spread to the other parts.
Other than these tests:
X-ray, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT scan(computed tomography), PET scan (Positron Emission Tomography) is done to see the size of the tumour, location of the tumour and measure the length of the tumour.
Also, if there are any changes in bladder or rectal areas:
It is done to check the inside of the bladder and urethra.
This process is done to check for colon and rectum.
Various types of surgery can be done to treat cervical cancer based on the size and spread of cancer.
Cryosurgery: in this, a probe is placed in the cervix which freezes the cancer cells, and laser surgery is performed, which burns off the abnormal cells.
Hysterectomy: this is the removal of the uterus and cervix.
Trachelectomy: in this cervix and the top of the vagina is removed, leaving the uterus for women to conceive the child.
Pelvic exenteration: in this procedure uterus, vagina, bladder, rectum, lymph nodes, and part of the colon are removed depending on the spread of cancer.
Risk factors of cervical cancer:
Prevention is better than cure:
This cancer is a slow-growing disease, but we can be faster by following the necessary steps and avoid the risk factors of cervical cancer:
⦁ Go for routine Pap tests
⦁ Follow up for abnormal Pap smears
⦁ Get vaccinated
⦁ Practice safe sex
⦁ Quit smoking
Living with cancer.
As we all know, it is not that easy to cope up with cancer mentally and physically. You cannot understand the feeling that a cancer patient/ survivor goes through. If you are a cancer patient/ survivor or someone related to and reading this, you can follow the following:
Always clear your doubts with your doctor. It is your right to know all the ifs and buts. You should know everything about your disease and treatment.
Do not use the internet or any other source for information about your disease. It doesn't need to be correct.
Always stay positive. Don't give up on yourself.
Find the right way to express your feelings. Go to a therapist or support groups. It's essential to feel good about yourself, no matter what.
Sitting on the bed will only give you bed sores. Whenever you get time to take a walk, exercise or dance.
Most importantly, never forget how amazingly strong you are. Pat, you back and give yourself some credit.