In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that arises from the cells of the cervix in women. It is the fourth most common type of cancer in women. One of its most well-established causative agents is some strains of human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease (STD) for which there is already a vaccine for both sexes. You can acquire HPV through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Preventive measures against the virus are mechanical protection and vaccination. This article will focus on the essential information regarding cervical cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and treatment options.
How common is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women, making it a prevalent disease. The World Health Organization estimates that there were 570,00 new cases of cervical cancer in 2018. The five-year survival rate of early-detected cervical cancer is about 92%. In the presence of metastasis in other organs or adjacent lymph nodes, it falls to 56%. Interestingly, about 45% of women with cervical cancer receive an early diagnosis.
What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?
Risk factors favor a disease to occur. An individual with more than one risk factor has a higher chance of developing cervical cancer. That does not mean they will present with cervical cancer for sure. Similarly, not having any risk factors does not mean you will not develop the disease. The following are some of the most well-known risk factors of cervical cancer:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the most well-established risk factor for cervical cancer. The virus enters the body through unprotected sex, and most people can get rid of it without complications. HPV16 and HPV18 strains are the ones most associated with cervical cancer.
- Immune system deficiency raises the risk of acquiring many diseases, including HPV. HIV or organ transplantation, for example, may lead to immune system suppression and a higher chance of getting HPV or fighting cervical cancer.
- Genital herpes infection raises a woman’s chance to develop cervical cancer.
- Smoking increases a woman’s risk twice to develop cervical cancer.
- The age of 20 years old until mid-thirties raises a woman’s chance to develop the disease.
- Oral contraceptives might increase a woman’s risk of cervical cancer.
- Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy may raise a woman’s chance to present with a rare type of cervical cancer.
- Social and economic factors may influence a woman’s ability to get regular screenings for cervical cancer.
HPV and cervical cancer
HPV is a very prevalent virus that has various strains. Most people get infected with HPV as soon as they start being sexually active. However, most individuals manage to clear the infection as they get older. HPV 16 and 18 are two strains that cause about 70% of all cancerous or precancerous cervical lesions. However, there is also growing evidence that HPV might contribute to the development of other types of genital, anal, or oropharyngeal cancer, due to the heterogeneity of sexual practices. Current screening methods with a Pap test, together with the development of a vaccine, contributed to the early diagnosis and management of cervical cancer.
Symptoms and signs of cervical cancer
Early-stages cervical cancer is usually asymptomatic and challenging to diagnose if a woman does not get annual screenings. More advanced-stage types of cervical cancer produce some of the following symptoms and signs:
- Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Intermittent vaginal bleeding between menstruation
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Types of cervical cancer
The two main types of cervical cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. It is vital to know the variety of cells from which cancer originated. It is not uncommon for both types of cancer to coexist. However, most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer
Screening tests for cervical cancer may help a physician diagnose and treat the disease early. A Pap test and an HPV DNA test are two popular methods to screen for cervical cancer. Diagnosis involves a pelvic exam with a colposcope, to check for any visible abnormal changes in the cervix. During this procedure, your doctor might take a sample of the tissue of your cervix through a punch biopsy or endocervical curettage. Other alternatives include an electrical wire loop and a cone biopsy. To stage the tumor, you will have to undergo some imaging tests, such as an x-ray, CT, or MRI scans. Sometimes, your doctor might have to examine your rectum and bladder.
What is the treatment of cervical cancer?
The three most commonly used therapeutic methods for cervical cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Other treatments include immunotherapy and targeted therapy. A combination of methods might be necessary, according to a patient’s type of cancer and stage. Early-diagnosed tumors usually require surgery. Patients with locally advanced cervical cancers might benefit from a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Talk with your doctor and discuss your treatment options, according to the type of your cervical cancer, your stage, medical history, and overall health.