Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina, according to Mayo Clinic. It is one of the common cancers in women and is the cause of infections by the HPV virus.
Cervix is also called the neck of the reproductive system and protrudes into the vagina. The interior or canal of the cervix is called cervical canal and it can be divided into two parts: endocervix and ectocervix. Endocervix is closer to the uterus and its columnar epithelial cells are responsible for producing mucus. Ectocervix is continuous with the vagina and is surrounded by mature squamous epithelial cells. This may help understand the types of cervical cancer later.
According to Mayo Clinic, cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus that can be a sexually transmitted but immune system protects the body from such virus.
However, when the virus remains in some part of the cervix, they convert more cells into cancer cells harming the body in the longer run. Know the symptoms and causes of cervical cancer for better treatment and prevention of the disease.
Cervical Cancer: Symptoms
There are generally no symptoms during the early stages of cervical cancer. Symptoms in the later stages include:
Vaginal bleeding after intercourse
Vaginal bleeding after menopause
Vaginal discharge that may have blood stains and foul odour
Pelvic pain while having intercourse
Cervical Cancer: Causes
Cervical cancer may be caused due to the errors in the DNA mutations while the cells divide and grow. DNA is responsible for the functioning of the cell. Usually, the healthy cells divide and grow at a set rate and they have a time period after which they die. But the cancer cells divide and grow at a rapid rate and do not even die, leading to cancer.
When these don't die and start to accumulate, they form a mass of cells which turns into a tumor and this tumour may begin to grow and affect the nearby tissues making its way to other organs as well.
HPV virus is also a common cause of cancer but many people with HPV virus do not develop cervical cancer. Other factors like lifestyle choices and environmental factors also contribute to the development of cancer cells.
Cervical Cancer: Types
Squamous cell carcinoma: According to the American Cancer Society, nine out of ten cervix cancer cases are that of this type. This cancer develops in the cells of the exocervix and starts to develop in the transformation zone, between exocervix and endocervix.
Adenocarcinoma: The other cases are that of adenocarcinoma and they develop in the glandular cells. They start to develop in the mucus producing cells of the endocervix.
Cervical Cancer: Diagnosis
See a doctor at the earliest if you have any of the symptoms. The doctor may talk to you about your family history, medical history and discuss the risk factors and symptoms as well.
The doctor will start with a basic pelvic exam and physical examination. If the HPV tests are positive they may use the following methods to confirm if it is cervical cancer:
Colposcopy: The doctor checks your cervix with a colposcope, keeping the vagina open with a speculum. According to the American Cancer Society, doctors use acetic acid for any abnormalities to be visible with the magnifying colposcope which is easier to test and should be avoided during periods.
Colposcopic biopsy: After a test with the colposcope, the uppermost layer of the abnormal area of a cervix is removed with forceps and tested further. This may result in brief pain, cramps and a little bleeding.
Endocervical scraping: When the doctors are unable to find anything under colposcopy or the biopsy, they may ask you to undergo another biopsy in which a brush or a curette is used to scrape the endocervix and the part is sent to the lab for testing.
Conization: In this biopsy, the tissue is removed in a cone shaped with the base being a part of the exocervix and the tip of the cone being the part of the endocervical canal. This method can also be used to remove any pre-cancer cells.
Cervical Cancer: Treatment
Cryosurgery is a method in which a cold metal probe is placed directly on the cervix and results in the killing of the cancer cells due to the extreme low temperature and it may result in brown watery discharge for a few weeks.
Laser Ablation uses the laser beam which is passed through the cervix of and is used to vapourise the cancer cells or burn them off. It is uncomfortable than the cryosurgery, so may be done under anesthesia.
Radiation Therapy uses the high quality X-rays to kill the cancer cells. They may be used with chemotherapy or surgery as well. It depends on the stage of cancer. It is focuses the X-rays on the cancer cells from outside or inside to stop the growth of cancer cells and it is usually a painless treatment.
Chemotherapy is a method in which the anti-cancer drugs are either injected or given orally so that they can enter the blood stream and kill the cancer cells if they have spread to other organs.