What Is Cervical Cancer And How Is It Treated?
The cervix is a part of the reproductive organs of a woman and is in the lower portion of the uterus. It is approximately two inches long, tubular in shape, composed primarily of fibromuscular tissue and connects the vagina and the uterus. Women typically talk about the cervix in relation to childbirth, or in relation to having a pap smear. However, many are unaware of what the cervix is and how it functions.
Functions of the Cervix
- Widens during childbirth to allow for the passage of the baby.
- Allows for the passage of menstrual fluid from the uterus.
- Produces moisture to lubricate the vagina, which keeps the vagina clean.
- Produces mucus that helps sperm travel up to the fallopian tube to fertilise an egg that has been released from the ovary.
- Holds a developing baby in the uterus during pregnancy.
Cervical cancer is the result of the uncontrolled division and growth of squamous and glandular cells which results in an excessive accumulation of cells, and which eventually forms a lump, otherwise known as a tumour.
Types of Cervical Cancer
The main types of cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
- Squamous cell carcinoma makes up about 80% to 90% of all cervical cancers. These cancers arise in the cells on the outer surface covering of the cervix.
- Adenocarcinoma makes up 10% to 20% of all cervical cancers. These cancers arise in the glandular cells that line the lower birth canal.
- Less commonly, cervical cancers have features of both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. These are called adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer, like many cancers, is sometimes undetectable in its early stages. However, as it advances, the signs and symptoms may include:
- Abnormal bleeding: bleeding after intercourse, between periods and bleeding after menopause are potential signs of cervical cancer.
- Severe pelvic pain: this can range from a sharp pain to a dull ache in the pelvis.
- Unusual pains: pain during sex or urination are warning signs.
- Strange discharge: a cloudy, foul-smelling discharge is a potential red flag.
- Fatigue: cervical cancer can make one feel fatigued or sluggish.
- Changes in bowel movement: urinating often or feeling like you always have to use the washroom are symptoms associated with the disease, as is persistent changes in the quality of one’s stool.
It is important to note that having any of the symptoms listed above does not necessarily mean that cervical cancer is present. One should seek medical advice or have a test done, such as a pap smear, to be certain.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is very common. Many people who have HPV don’t have any symptoms, and often the infection goes away on its own. However, some types of HPV can lead to cervical cancer or cancer of the anus or penis.
- Immune system deficiency: women with lowered immune systems have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. A lowered immune system can be caused by immune suppression from corticosteroid medications, organ transplantation, treatments for other types of cancer, or from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which is the virus that causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). When a woman has HIV, her immune system is less able to fight off early cancer.
- Oral contraceptives: some research studies suggest that oral contraceptives, which are birth control pills, may be associated with an increase in the risk of cervical cancer. However, more research is needed to understand how oral contraceptive use and the development of cervical cancer are connected.
- Smoking: women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as women who do not smoke.
- Age: girls younger than 15 years old rarely develop cervical cancer. The risk increases between the late teens and mid-30s. Women over 40 years of age remain at risk and need to continue having regular cervical cancer screenings, which include both a pap test and HPV test.
Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
The following are some of the tests done for cervical cancer:
- Physical examination: your doctor can check for any abnormalities in your cervix through a pap-test. In this test, some cells of the cervix are collected using a cotton swab, a spatula or a cervix brush with the aid of a speculum (used to gently spread the vaginal walls to make room for vagina and cervix examination). The collected cells are examined to see whether they contain any abnormal cell changes.
- Biopsy: this is the removal of a small amount of tissue in the cervix for examination. It can be:
- Endocervical biopsy- done to check for cancer cells in the cervical canal
- Colposcopy and cervical biopsy- done to find out whether there are cancer cells in the cervical canal, and if so, where in the canal they are located.
- Imaging tests: such as MRI, CT scan and PET scan which are done to find the extent of cervical cancer.
Before starting a treatment, it is important to consider factors such as whether you wish to have children, your age, and your overall health. Here are some of the cervical cancer treatment options:
- Surgery: early-stage cervical cancer is typically treated with surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy). A hysterectomy can cure early-stage cervical cancer and prevent recurrence.
- Radiation Therapy: radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used alone or with chemotherapy before surgery to shrink a tumour, or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: drugs injected into the veins or taken orally are used to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemoradiation: this is a combination of both chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat cancer which has already spread from the primary area to other parts of the body.
- Immunotherapy: this new treatment option uses drugs to enable the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
One can prevent cervical cancer by:
- Getting the HPV vaccine, especially if you are 26 years or younger
- Having regular screening tests. Pre-cancers can be treated at an early stage before they grow into tumours.
- Avoiding cigarette smoking.
- Practising safe sex to reduce your risk of a sexually transmitted infection, such as HPV.
- Limiting the number of sex partners.
Treating cervical cancer in its early stages is less costly and more likely to be successful.
How IMT can help
We, at International Medical Treatment (IMT), are experienced facilitators who can link you with some of the best cervical cancer specialists in our partner hospitals in India, Dubai and Thailand.
We are here to help. By using IMT you will be assured of the following:
You will get a free, dedicated client coordinator who will help you coordinate with our partner hospitals to provide you, for free, with treatment plans and quotes to allow you to make an informed decision about which hospital and treatment is right for you.
All our partner hospitals are internationally accredited (JCI) and are the top hospitals in each country. We only work with the market leading hospitals.
If you arrange things through us you will never pay more than if you were to contact the hospitals directly.
No hidden fees, no obligations- receive a free, dedicated coordinator from IMT to help coordinate and book your international medical treatment.
Find Out More
To find out more about IMT and the services available visit our website at www.intmedicaltreatment.com or call us today on +254 0740 409 727. You can also visit our office at The Mirage, 1st Floor, Tower 2, Chiromo, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya.