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Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness month. It is when health bodies like the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) in the US highlight issues related to cervical cancer, HPV disease and the importance of early detection.

NMO has put together information on the symptoms, causes and treatment on this preventable form of cancer that is the second biggest killer cancer in women.

Girls of the age 11 and 12 can be given a vaccine and a pap smear test schedule for the prevention of cancer. Women, at the age of 21, or within three years of the starting sexual activity, should start taking the pap smear test and it should be repeated every 2 years till the age of 30 and every 3 years thereafter.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Symptoms usually don’t appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding among other symptoms stated below.

Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, or a change in your menstrual cycle that cannot be easily explained.

Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before. Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam.

Pain during urination: Bladder pain or pain during urination can be a symptom of advanced cervical cancer. This cervical cancer symptom usually occurs when cancer has spread to the bladder.

Increase in the frequency of urination and heavy discharge that may be watery, thick, and possibly have a foul odour.

Causes of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer most commonly begins in the thin, flat cells that line the bottom of the cervix (squamous cells). Squamous cell carcinomas account for about 80% of cervical cancers. Cervical cancer can also occur in the glandular cells that line the upper portion of the cervix.

Genetic material that comes from certain forms of HPV has been found in cervical tissues that show cancerous or precancerous changes.

Most cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can be contracted through sexual intercourse with an infected partner. There are many forms of HPV, but not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Some of them cause genital warts, but other types may not cause any symptoms.

More than 90 percent of all cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, and researchers believe that this cancer may be a sexually transmitted disease. There is much evidence that cervical carcinoma is related to sexually transmitted organisms.

Chemical exposure may also be a cause. Women who work on farms or in the manufacturing industry may be exposed to chemicals that can increase their risk of cervical cancer.

Women who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, often take drugs that weaken the body’s natural immunity or its ability to fight off disease. These women also have an increased risk for cervical cancer and should be closely monitored by their gynaecologist for the development of precancerous changes to the cervix.

Treatment of Cervical Cancer

Early detection of cancer can lead to its surgical removal and it is usually the most preferred way of treatment but not every woman has to undergo it.

An alternative treatment is loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) which includes the usage of high frequency electrical current to cut and remove the diseased tissue. This procedure is done by administering local anaesthetic to numb the cervix and a wire loop is inserted in the vagina. Tissue sample is removed for examination and deeper tissues are used to evaluate the endocervical canal.

Another treatment for cervical cancer surgery is laser surgery which uses a laser beam directed through the vagina instead of a knife to burn the abnormal cells or remove the tissues for biopsy.

Conisation is also an option which is a surgical procedure which includes removal of a cone-shape tissue from the cervix and like LEEP, it uses a heated wire or a scalpel or laser, which is also known as cone knife cone biopsy. This method is beneficial to most women as their ability to conceive is protected in majority of the cases.

Hysterectomy is an option which involves many kinds of procedures and it aims to eliminate the cancerous tissue by uterus removal. Those who try for pregnancy can be rest assured as the ovaries are intact after the hysterectomy procedure. If the woman cannot bear children even after ovaries are retained after hysterectomy, she would not go into premature menopause.

One should be aware about different surgery options and discuss with their surgeons.

In recent years, there has been decline in deaths arising from cervical cancer due to the widespread use of the pap test to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment. Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years.

Cancer of the cervix tends to occur during midlife. Half of the women diagnosed with the disease are between 35 and 55 years of age. It rarely affects women under age 20, and approximately 20 percent of diagnoses are made in women older than 65. For this reason, it is important for women to continue cervical cancer screening until at least the age of 70. Some women need to continue screening longer, so ask your health care provider what’s best for you.


Resources: http://www.nccc-online.org; http://EzineArticles.com/1104072;

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