WHAT IS THE CERVIX?
The cervix is the lower, cylinder-shaped part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is often called the “neck” of the uterus. It has an outer surface that opens into the vagina and an inner surface that faces into the uterus. The inner part is called the cervical canal.
WHAT ARE THE FUNCTIONS OF THE CERVIX?
- Producing moisture to lubricate the vagina
- Producing mucus that helps sperms travel up to the Fallopian tube to fertilize an egg from the ovary
- Holding a developing baby in the uterus during pregnancy.
- Widening so the baby can be born via the birth canal (vagina).
The cervix is covered by two kinds of cells (Squamous cells and Glandular cells), which line the surfaces of many organs and body systems:
WHAT IS CERVICAL CANCER?
Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named after the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later. So when cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer.
WHO IS MOST AT RISK?
All women are at risk of getting cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30.
WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF CERVICAL CANCER?
- Cervical cancers start in the cells on the surface of the cervix.
- Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (human papilloma virus). HPV is a common virus that is spread through sexual intercourse.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Not getting the HPV vaccine
- Weakened immune system
- Using birth control pills for a long time
- Giving birth to many children
- Having taken diethylstilbestrol (DES) or being the daughter of a mother who took DES [a form of estrogen that was used between 1940 and 1971 to treat women with certain problems during pregnancy, such as miscarriages]
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER?
- Cervical cancer symptoms often go unnoticed because they mimic so many other ailments such as PMS or ovulation pains. Many times, however, cervical cancer has no symptoms. Those that may occur include:
- Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver. Patients with cervical cancer do not usually have problems until the cancer is advanced and has spread. Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause
- Continuous vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling
- Periods become heavier and last longer than usual
- Back pain
- Bone pain or fractures
- Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
- Leg pain
- Loss of appetite
- Pelvic pain
- Single swollen leg
- Weight loss
TESTS AND EXAMS
To spot cervical cancer conditions:
- Pap smears; Colposcopy and Cone biopsy are usually done.
If the woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, tests will include:
Chest x-ray; CT scan of the pelvis; Cystoscopy; Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) or an MRI of the pelvis
HOW IS CERVAL CANCER TREATED?
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on:
- The stage of the cancer
- The size and shape of the tumor
- The woman’s age and general health
- Her desire to have children in the future
Types of surgery for early cervical cancer include:
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) — uses electricity to remove abnormal tissue
- Cryotherapy — freezes abnormal cells
- Laser therapy — uses light to burn abnormal tissue
*A hysterectomy (removal of the uterus but not the ovaries) is not often performed for cervical cancer that has not spread. It may be done in women who have repeated LEEP procedures.
Treatment for more advanced cervical cancer may include:
Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination. The choice of treatment depends on the size of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread and whether the woman would like to become pregnant someday.
PREVENTION OF CERVICAL CANCER
- Practicing safe sex (AB rule – Abstain; Be faithful)
- Get regular Pap smears [Annual pelvic examinations, including a pap smear, should start when a woman becomes sexually active, or by the age of 20 in a nonsexual active woman].
- If you smoke quit.