Cervical cancer begins with the growth of cells in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus connecting to the vagina.
Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common infection transmitted through sexual contact. Normally, the body’s immune system fights off HPV, but in some individuals, the virus can persist for years, leading to the development of cancerous cervical cells.
To lower the risk of cervical cancer, it’s important to undergo regular screening tests and receive the HPV vaccine.
If cervical cancer is diagnosed, it is often initially treated with surgery to remove the cancerous cells. Other treatment options may include medications to target and kill the cancer cells, such as chemotherapy and targeted therapy drugs. Radiation therapy using high-energy beams may also be utilized, sometimes in combination with low-dose chemotherapy.
Cervical cancer Symptoms
In its early stages, cervical cancer may not exhibit any symptoms. However, as it progresses, the following signs and symptoms may manifest:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause.
- Menstrual bleeding that is heavier and lasts longer than usual.
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and accompanied by a foul odor.
- Pelvic pain or discomfort, including pain during intercourse.
When to see a Medical
Schedule an appointment with a doctor or another healthcare professional if you experience any symptoms that cause concern.
Cervical cancer Causes
Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells in the cervix undergo changes in their DNA. DNA serves as the instructions guiding a cell’s functions. These alterations prompt the cells to multiply rapidly and persist when they should naturally die as part of their life cycle. Consequently, an excessive number of cells may accumulate, potentially forming a mass known as a tumor. These cells can infiltrate and damage healthy body tissue. Over time, they may detach and spread to other parts of the body.
The majority of cervical cancers stem from HPV, a common virus transmitted through sexual contact. While HPV typically resolves without causing issues for most individuals, it can induce cellular changes in some cases that may lead to cancer.
Cervical cancer Type
Cervical cancer is categorized into types based on the specific type of cell where the cancer originates. The primary types of cervical cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This form of cervical cancer originates in thin, flat cells known as squamous cells, which line the outer part of the cervix. The majority of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of cervical cancer begins in the column-shaped gland cells that line the cervical canal.
Occasionally, cervical cancer involves both types of cells. In very rare instances, cancer may develop in other cells within the cervix.
Cervical cancer Risk factors
Several factors contribute to the risk of developing cervical cancer, including:
- Smoking tobacco: Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer. HPV infections in individuals who smoke are more likely to persist for a longer duration.
- Number of sexual partners: A higher number of sexual partners, for both you and your partner, increases the likelihood of acquiring HPV, which is a primary cause of cervical cancer.
- Early sexual activity: Engaging in sexual activity at an early age raises the risk of HPV infection, consequently increasing the risk of cervical cancer.
- Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Presence of other STIs such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS heightens the risk of HPV infection, which can lead to cervical cancer.
- Weakened immune system: Individuals with a weakened immune system due to another health condition are more susceptible to developing cervical cancer if they have HPV.
- Exposure to miscarriage prevention medicine: If your parent took a medication called diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy, your risk of cervical cancer might be elevated. DES, used in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage, is associated with a type of cervical cancer known as clear cell adenocarcinoma.
Cervical cancer Prevention
To lower your risk of cervical cancer, consider the following steps:
- Inquire about the HPV vaccine: Consult with your doctor about receiving the HPV vaccine. This vaccination can help prevent HPV infection and reduce the risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Discuss with your healthcare team whether the HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
- Undergo regular Pap tests: Pap tests are essential for detecting precancerous conditions of the cervix early. Early detection allows for monitoring or treatment to prevent the development of cervical cancer. Most healthcare organizations recommend starting routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
- Practice safe sex: Take precautions to reduce your risk of cervical cancer by preventing sexually transmitted infections. This includes using condoms consistently during sexual activity and limiting the number of sexual partners you have.
- Avoid smoking: If you are a non-smoker, refrain from starting. If you currently smoke, seek guidance from a healthcare professional on strategies to quit smoking. Quitting smoking can significantly decrease your risk of developing cervical cancer.