Cervical cancer is the type of cancer that affects the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. It is a hollow cylinder that connects the uterus’s body to the vagina (birth canal). The cervix is composed of two parts and is covered with two different types of cells.
The site where these two cell types meet in the cervix is known as the transformation zone. The exact position of the transformation zone changes as a woman gets older and after giving birth. Most cervical cancers initiate in the cells in the transformation zone. According to cancerindia.org.in, cervical cancer is the third most leading cancer affecting Indian women.
Most women with cervical cancer do not realize they have this disease early on, as the symptoms begin at a late or advanced stage. However, when symptoms appear, they are easily mistaken with other common conditions such as urinary tract infection.
Signs and symptoms associated with more advanced cervical cancer include:
Cervical cancer initiates when healthy cells in the cervix undergo some changes (mutations) in their DNA. A cell’s DNA is the genetic material and contains the instructions that tell a cell what to do.
Healthy cells grow and multiply at a constant rate, eventually dying at a set time period. The mutations in the cells result in uncontrollable growth and multiplication.This leads to the accumulation of abnormal cells, forming a mass (tumor). Cancer cells invade nearby cells and tissues and can break off from a tumor to spread elsewhere in the body. This is known as metastasizing. Most cervical cancer cases are known to be caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). The same virus that is responsible for causing genital warts. There are approximately hundred different strains of HPV. Only a few types cause cervical cancer. HPV-16 and HPV-18 are two types that most commonly cause cancer. Human papillomavirus is not the only cause of cervical cancer. Most women with HPV don’t get cervical cancer. Some other risk factors, such as smoking and HIV infection to which women exposed to HPV, are more prone to get cervical cancer.
After a woman has been diagnosed, the doctor will assign a stage to cancer. The stage tells whether the cancer has spread, and if so, how far it’s spread. Staging cancer can help the doctor find the right treatment.
Cervical cancer has four stages:
Stage 1: Cancer is small. It may have reached the lymph nodes only. It hasn’t spread to other body parts.
Stage 2: Cancer is growing larger. It may have metastasized outside of the uterus and cervix or to the lymph nodes. Cancer still hasn’t reached other parts of the body.
Stage 3: Cancer has invaded to the lower vaginal part or the pelvis. It may block the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.
Stage 4: Cancer may have spread outside of the pelvis, and it spread to organs like lungs, bones, or liver.
A risk factor is something that increases an individual’s chance of getting any disease, including cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. For example, exposing skin to strong sunlight or any radiation is a risk factor for skin cancer. Smoking is a risk factor associated with lung cancer and many cancers. But having a risk factor does not mean that someone will get the disease.
Various risk factors can increase the probability of developing cervical cancer. Women without any of these risk factors hardly develop cervical cancer. Although these risk factors can enhance the odds of developing cervical cancer, many females with these risks do not develop this disease. When we think about risk factors, it helps to focus on those we can change or avoid (like smoking or human papillomavirus infection), rather than those we cannot (such age and family history). However, it is still essential to be well informed about risk factors that cannot be changed. This is because it’s even more important for women who have these factors to get regular screening tests.
Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
To reduce your risk of cervical cancer:
Be well informed about the HPV vaccines – Receiving a vaccination against HPV infection may reduce the chance of cervical cancer and other HPV- related cancers. Always consult a doctor before getting a vaccination against HPV.
Having routine Pap tests – Pap tests is a useful technique to diagnose precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be observed or treated to prevent cervical cancer. Most medical organizations suggest the beginning of routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
Practice safer sex – Reduce the risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections.
Medical Tests and Health Checkups Available At House of Diagnostics (HOD).