Apart from cervical cancer, there are several other health conditions that can affect the cervix. This being a cervical health month, we have produced this article which looks at some of the common conditions that affect the cervix.
About the Cervix
The cervix, part of the female reproductive system, is the lower, narrow part of the uterus or womb which joins the uterus or womb to the vagina. It allows blood to flow from the uterus to the vagina during menstruation as well as allowing the passage of sperm into the uterus during intercourse. The cervix is made up of strong muscles which enable it to expand creating a passage for a baby during birth.
The cervix is therefore a very important part of a female’s body as it plays a huge role, especially in a woman’s reproductive system. Knowing which conditions can affect it is important for every woman because only through being informed can you be aware of how to deal with such conditions.
These cancers may not cause signs in the early stages but as they progress, the followings signs and symptoms may occur:
- Cervical Cancer
This tops the list, as it is one of the most common cancers among women. In 2018, approximately 500,000 new cervical cancer cases were reported.
This cancer occurs when malignant (cancerous) cells grow rapidly and uncontrollably in the cervix causing the formation of a tumour. Most cervical cancer cases are caused by type 16 and 18 of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). However, there are other risk factors, such as smoking and obesity, which can increase a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer. It can be diagnosed through a pap smear test and a punch biopsy, among other tests. Once the cancer has been diagnosed and staged, the treatment can begin, and this can involve surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, among other treatment options.
Cervical cancer is one of the cancers with at least one known cause – HPV, and therefore can be prevented to a great extent by getting vaccinated against the HPV virus, by reducing the number of sexual partners (which, in turn, reduces the risk of getting HPV) and by practising safe sex.
To learn more about cervical cancer, click here
2. Sexually Transmitted Infections
Most infections that affect the cervix are transmitted through sex and they include:
- HPV: The Human Papillomavirus is a group of viruses, some of which can lead to cervical changes like cervical warts, while others can even lead to cervical cancer. As stated earlier in the article, women can be vaccinated against HPV to prevent infections which can lead to cancer.
- Gonorrhoea: Gonorrhoea is caused by a bacterium. Some of the symptoms for this disease are having a thick green or yellow vaginal discharge, pain during urination and bleeding in between periods. It can be diagnosed through testing a sample of the vaginal discharge or a sample of urine. Antibiotics are then used to treat the disease.
- Genital Herpes: This is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Genital herpes remains dormant in the body even after treatment, though it can become active at times. Symptoms of this disease include itching around the vagina, blisters around the genitals, anus and thighs and pain when urinating. Genital herpes can be diagnosed through a blood test and viral culture, among other tests. It is treated using viral medications such as Zovirax and Valtrex.
- Chlamydia: This is another common STD which can cause serious and permanent damage to a woman’s reproductive system. It is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis. Its symptoms include increased vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, pain or bleeding during sex and burning when urinating, among other symptoms. Chlamydia can be diagnosed through testing a sample of urine or vaginal discharge, after which it is treated using antibiotics.
- Trichomonas: This disease is caused by the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite and it may not exhibit any symptoms making it hard for a person to know when they have been infected. However, some symptoms may occur such as itching, soreness or burning of the genitals, unusual vaginal discharge and discomfort during urination. Testing vaginal discharge is one way of diagnosing this disease, which is treated using medication like metronidazole.
The best way to prevent these and other STDs is by practising safe sex and limiting the number of your sexual partners.
3. Other Conditions that affect the cervix are:
- Cervicitis: This refers to inflammation of the cervix which can be caused by chemical or physical irritants, infections and allergies. Some of its symptoms are pain during intercourse, abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic or abdominal pain. It is diagnosed through testing vaginal fluids after a pelvic exam has been performed. Cervicitis can be treated using antibiotics, and antiviral or antifungal medications.
- Cervical Polyps: These are small painless growths on the cervical canal which are often greyish, purplish or reddish in colour. Cervical polyps are benign, meaning that they are not cancerous and are said to be harmless. Most women with cervical polyps do not have symptoms. However, some woman may experience bleeding after sex, between periods or after menopause, and smelly vaginal discharge. The exact cause of cervical polyps is not known, but they are linked to chronic inflammation, clogged blood vessels near the cervix and cervical infections. In most cases, cervical polyps are diagnosed during a routine pelvic exam or pap smear test. The doctor will then order a biopsy to determine whether the growths are benign or cancerous.
The treatment of polyps can involve removal of the polyps and can be followed by medications to kill the pain and stop bleeding.