When the source of cancer are the cells present in the cervix – the lower most part of the uterus which connects to the vagina, the cancer is known as cervical cancer. The staging of this type of cancer is as follows:
Stage I: Stage I is divided into two sub stages, IA & IB. In stage IA, the cancerous growth is so small that it can be seen only with the help of a microscope. In stage IB, the cancerous area is slightly larger, but it still confined to the tissues of the cervix.
Stage II: In the second stage, the cancer starts to spread outside the neck of the womb, but remains clear of the ligaments & tissues of the pelvic wall.
Stage III: In this stage the cancer grows beyond the cervix into the pelvic wall and ureters. It can also affect the lower 3rd of the vagina.
Stage IV: Cervical cancer in stage IV is considered as advanced cancer. Cervical cancer in this stage spreads to other organs outside of the uterus and pelvic area.
The exact cause of cervical cancer is not known, but it is known HPV (human papillomavirus) plays an important factor in the development of cancer. Typically, when a women’s body is exposed to HPV the immune system prevents it. But in certain women, the virus survives for years and contributes to cervical cancer. The types of cervical cancer are based on the cells from which the cancer begins.
- Squamous cell carcinoma:Most of the cervical cancers are of this type. In this case, the cancer originates from the squamous cells, which are flat & thin cells which line the outer part of the cervix.
- Adenocarcinoma:Such type of cancer begins in cells which are shaped like columns. These cells line the cervical canal.
Certain factors are known to increase the risk of cervical cancer. They include:
- High risk sexual behavior: This includes having more than one sexual partners and not practicing safe sex.
- Early sexual activity: If you are involved in sexual activities from an early age then you are at a higher risk.
- An impaired immune system: Having a weak immune system increases the risk of cervical cancer.
During the early stages of cervical cancer, the patient generally does not experience any symptoms. At advanced stages, the symptoms usually affect the vagina.
Related to vagina:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge.
- Pain around the vagina during sex
Post coital bleeding or bleeding after intercourse
- Significant changes in the menstrual cycle.
- Abnormal loss of weight.
- Chronic leg, back or pelvic pain
In order to detect cervical cancer at an early stage, undergoing regular Pap test is recommended. It is a routine screening test, in which the doctor looks for abnormal changes in the cervical cells. The frequency of this test depends on your age and the risk factors you are exposed to. To confirm cervical cancer the doctor may conduct one or more of the following tests:
- Endocervical Curettage (ECC): An instrument known as the curette is used to scrape the endocervical canal lining.
- A colposcopy and cervical biopsy: Colposcopy is an examination in which the doctor uses a magnifying device called colposcope to look at the patient’s cervix.
Diagnosis to determine the stage is as follows:
- X-ray: An x-ray of your chests in order to examine your lungs.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound is an imaging technique which gives the doctor a chance to examine your internal organs with the help of ultra sound waves. The doctor may move the transducer over your abdomen or insert it in your vagina.
- Positron emission tomography (PET): A PET scan is used to check how far the cancer has spread.
The treatment and the outcome of treatment itself, depends on the stage and type of cervical cancer. In its early stages, cervical cancer is generally treated with surgery. This surgery is known as a hysterectomy, wherein, the uterus is removed. Hence, having a child after this type of surgery is not possible. There are two options:
- Simple hysterectomy: In this type of hysterectomy, the uterus is removed. Such type of hysterectomy is preferred when the cancer is detected at a very early stage.
- Total radical hysterectomy: Here, the uterus, cervix, lymph nodes and a part of the vagina are removed.
The general treatment during the different stages of cancer is as follows:
Stage I and selected cases of stage II: Surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Stage II: Combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Stage III: Combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy
Stage IV: Surgery, combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or some patients may just opt to control the pain causing syndromes.