Question: What is Cervical Cancer?
Dr.:Cervical cancer is cancer involving the cervix (neck) of the uterus. The cervix is the region between the uterus(womb) and the vagina. Therefore cervical cancer affects only women.
The main risk factor is an infection of the cervix with human papilloma virus. Meaning, almost all the women with cervical cancer have been previously infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
However not everyone with HPV infection ends up with cervical cancer. In fact, abt 90% HPV infections clear up on their own. HPV infection is sexually transmitted. Therefore women who are promiscuous or have promiscuous partners have an increased risk of contracting it.
Immunosuppression, as with HIV infection is also a risk factor. This is because the weak immune system is unable to clear up the abnormal cells, till they eventually become cancerous. Smoking also causes the cells to become abnormal and eventually cancerous. Early onset of sexual activity e.g at puberty is also a risk factor.
Cervical cancer can exist without any symptom. However, some women present with abnormal vaginal bleeding as the first symptom. This includes bleeding after sex or bleeding in between monthly periods. (E.g bleeding 1 WK after the end of the normal menses). Other symptoms are vaginal discomfort, pelvic pain, malodorous vaginal discharge, and pain while urinating. With advancement of the disease constipation, passing bloody urine, passing faeces through the vagina and kidney failure may occur.
This is because of the anatomical location of the cervix. Anterior to the cervix is the bladder, posterior to it is the rectum (large intestine). The ureters draining urine from the kidneys are close to the sides of the cervix. Other people also present with pain and swelling of the legs when the cancer compresses blood vessels draining the legs.
Weight loss and anaemia ( signified by dizziness, headache, palpitations) also occur.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES OR CURE
Because of the strong association between the HPV and cervical cancer, a pap smear is recommended to be able to diagnose the disease early or preempt it. A pap smear is a test done, when cells are scraped from the cervix and examined for any signs of malignancy. It is recommended that sexually active women do the test every 3 years.
However there is a vaccine available to prevent HPV infection and it is usually given to adolescents (both boys and girls) to prevent them from getting the HPV infection in the first place.
TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR DIAGNOSED PATIENTS
Once the diagnosis of cervical cancer has been made, treatment options include ablation of the abnormal cells (using heat) surgery (removing the cervix and other affected structures), chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Treatment options depend on factors including the stage of the disease and available resources.