Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells on the cervix grow out of control. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when detected early.Cervical cancer is the third most frequent cancer in women.
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic change (mutation) that causes them to turn into abnormal cells.Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus, or HPV. HPV is transmitted by sexual contact. There are many types and not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pain in the lower belly or pelvis.
- Pain during sex.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
Risk factors for cervical cancer
- Multiple sexual partners or partner with multiple sex partners.
- Early sexual activity.
- Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, Multiple pregnancies.
- Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis
- A weak immune system. HIV infection or drug treatments that affect the immune system
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
As part of a pelvic exam one should have a Pap test. If a Pap test shows abnormal cell changes, other tests like colposcopy, cervical biopsy may be needed to look for precancerous or cancer cells.
How is it treated?
The treatment for most stages of cervical cancer includes:
- Surgery, such as a hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes.
- Radiation therapy.
Can cervical cancer be prevented?
To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:
- Get vaccinated against HPV. Vaccination is available for girls and women ages 9 to 26.
- Have routine Pap tests. Women should begin screening at age 21 and repeat them every few years.
- Practice safe sex.Using a condom, having fewer sexual partners and delaying intercourse may reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
- Avoid smoking.
After the treatment doctors will propose a follow-up program on a regular basis aiming to:
- Detect possible recurrence of the tumor
- Evaluate adverse effects of the treatment.
- Provide psychological support and information to promote returning to normal life.
Latest in Cervical Cancer Research and Treatment
Some of the promising new developments include:
Sentinel lymph node biopsy
During surgery for cervical cancer, lymph nodes in the pelvis may be removed to check for cancer spread. Sentinel lymph node biopsy can be used to target just the few lymph nodes most likely to contain cancer. If these lymph nodes don’t contain cancer, the other lymph nodes don’t need to be removed lowering the risk oflymphedema of the legs.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors have been developed that “reset” the immune system. Their helpfulness in cervical cancer treatment is under clinical trials.
Some experimental vaccines are also being studied for women with established HPV infections, to help their immune systems destroy the virus and cure the infection before a cancer develops.Still other vaccines are meant to help women who already have advanced cervical cancer.
As researchers have learned more about the gene changes in cells that cause cancer, they have been able to develop newer drugs that specifically target these changes.
Some research indicates that adding hyperthermia to radiation may help keep the cancer from coming back and help patients live longer.