Abnormal growth of cells in any part of the body results in cancer. These cancerous cells grow to such an extent that they damage the other tissues. Most of the time cancers form tumors. But benign tumors are not cancerous.
In a woman’s reproductive system, the uterine cervix is located on the lowest narrow part of the uterus (womb) which connects it to the vagina. The growth of the baby takes place in the closed cervical area during pregnancy in the uterus and opens itself during the time of birth.
Human papilloma viruses (HPV) are some of the virus causing cervical cancer. The cancer arising from the cells that form a line on the upper part of the cervix leads to cervical cancer. The virus spreads through sexual contacts. Precancerous cells are initially developed which in turn becomes cancerous by deeply spreading to the other tissues of the body. The process from precancerous stage to invasive cancer is slow providing a chance to detect it at the earliest. Cervical cancer at the invasive stage spreads to the lungs, liver, bladder and vagina.
Cervical cancer might not have any symptoms at the early stage. However, some symptoms may appear to be seen at the later stages which include:
- Severe vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding even after menopause
- Pale, watery, pink, bloody vaginal discharge with foul smell
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Severe menstrual periods continuing for a longer time
- Pain after intercourse
In cases of severity, the following symptoms might include:
- Back pain
- Loss of weight
- Loss of appetite
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the legs
- Pain at the time of urination
Abnormal changes in the tissues of the cervix lead to cervical cancer. Factors like infections with HPV, too many sexual contacts with multiple partners, smoking and consumption of oral contraceptives might contribute to the development of this cancer. Skin rashes, warts on the genital organs, skin and body disorders might change the cells in the cervix into cancerous cells. Having sex at an early age and high risk sexual activities might also cause cervical cancer. A weak immune system is also at the risk of spreading the virus.
Patients with cervical cancer might not experience any symptoms initially but may have to tolerate pelvic pain and vaginal bleeding. Development of cancer cells in the cervix takes many years. A Pap test is advised for such patients which includes a serious examination of abnormal cells from the cervix. Pelvic exams and Pap tests done regularly reduce the risk of turning the cells into cancer. At the later stages diagnostic tests like Colposcopy and Biopsy are suggested. Leep( loop electrosurgical excision procedure), endocervical curettage and cone biopsy may also be needed to check the invasive stage of cervical cancer. A chest X-ray, CT scan and Intravenous pyelogram might also be needed. Sometimes a careful examination of the vagina and rectum under anesthesia might be performed to test the stage of cancer.
The treatment for cervical cancer is based upon its stage, size, woman’s health and age. The deepest cells are removed with the help of a biopsy. Surgeries like LEEP which cuts abnormal tissues, cryotherapy to freeze abnormal cells and Laser therapy to burn the abnormality in the tissues are suggested as a part of early treatment. Hysterectomy which removes the uterus may be advised after a series of LEEP procedure. An advanced stage of surgery, Pelvic exenteration, wherein organs of the pelvis are removed may also be suggested. Internal and external radiation therapy is the treatment for the wide spread of cancer in the pelvis and in case there is the recurrence of cancer. External radiation is the process of treating cancer with the help of radiation beams. Internal or implant radiation is a radio active material placed inwardly in the cervix. Chemotherapy uses powerful drugs flowing through the stream of blood to kill the severity of cancer cells.
It is often observed that some cervical cancers do not have any response to the treatment. There is quite a chance that cancer returns even after the treatment. Surgery and radiation therapies might create problems in the bowels and the bladder. Some women may experience bladder problems with trachelectomy. Complications like nausea and vomitins might occur due to hysterectomy. Symptoms of menopause may be severely seen after surgery rather than natural menopause. Hysterectomy might disturb sexual intimacy between partners.
Vaccines might prove to be the best prevention method for the spread of HPV infections.
Safe sex using condoms reduces the risk of such infections. It is better to avoid having sexual relation with a partner who has genital warts. Limiting herself to the number of sexual partners would reduce higher risk of cervical cancer. Pap tests done annually would also prevent from the spread of cancerous cells. Avoiding cigarette smoking decreases the chance of developing cancer in the cervix.
The use of garlic in regular diet reduces the expansion of cancer and helps the growth of healthy cells. Apricot seeds and ginger tea help in killing cancerous cells. Meditation and yogic exercises may relieve a person from stress and build up mental strength. Breathing exercises and aroma therapy might also ease a person from anxiousness.
A regular examination of the pelvis and pap smears is recommended for every woman. It is important to receive follow up care at every stage to avoid the spread and recurrence of cancer.