Usually, people react emotionally when they hear of cervical cancer. This is not surprising considering the seriousness of this disease, with millions of people all over the world dying from it every year. Understanding cancer; how it works or where it comes from is a tricky business. Primarily because, no one really knows. For years, scientists and medical practitioners have been continually working on finally putting their finger on cancer, but somehow, cancer is almost always impossible to understand.
Cancer affects men and women differently, but it is nonetheless important to understand the nature of various cancers. For females specifically, cervical cancer is becoming more rampant. Its incidence is increasing over the years. Today, cervical cancer is the fifth deadliest cancer for women as it causes up to 250,000 deaths annually.
What is Cervical Cancer and what causes it?
From the name itself, cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the lower portion of the uterus, which opens into the woman’s vagina. The cervix has many functions. The cervix stretches slightly open during menstruation in order to allow menstrual fluid to pass from the uterus. It is this stretching which experts believe to cause menstrual pain or dysmenorrhea. On the other hand, during sexual intercourse, the cervix quivers, a mechanism, which some experts believe, draws the semen into the uterus for conception.
Although this theory has been recently questioned, the principle still remains that sperm needs to pass through the cervix in order to reach the uterus. Lastly, during pregnancy, the narrow opening of the cervix called the OS closes, in order to protect the baby inside the uterus until birth. It is in birth that the cervix dilates to up to 10 cm wide, allowing for the safe passage of the baby.
Cervical cancer is commonly caused by the virus HPV or human papilloma virus. HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world, as it is believed that at least half of the sexually active population becomes affected at some point in their lives. HPV often times presents to be asymptomatic, meaning that you can continue in life knowing you have it. The incidence is more serious among women since it is estimated that 8 out of 10 women can become affected anytime in their lifetime and the fact that there is no screening test for HPV for men.
What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Cervical Cancer often presents without any symptoms in its early stages. If they do, they often go unnoticed because they are always mistaken for other medical conditions. Symptoms of cervical cancer unfortunately appear until after the cancer is more advanced. However, it may vary on a person-to-person basis. The first noticeable symptom for cervical cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding. You should visit your doctor when abnormal bleeding occurs immediately after sex, after menopause, or any other time following your monthly period.
Another symptom is continuous vaginal discharge, which could differ in consistency, contain blood or other particles, and have a foul-odor. There could also be pain either on your pelvic area, which is not related to menstrual cramps, or during urination. Other symptoms of cervical cancer include fatigue, loss of appetite, back pain, and bone fractures.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed and what are the treatment modalities?
Having a Pap test as part of your regular pelvic exam is one way of detecting cervical cancer. A Pap test, or also commonly known as a Pap smear, is a simple procedure, which checks for any changes in the cells of a woman’s cervix. It can be done in a doctors clinic or in the hospital. The woman is in a lithotomy position, the same position as when giving birth. The medical practitioner will insert a speculum into the vagina in order to widen it. After which a small cervical brush is used to collect some sample cells for analysis.
Once cervical cancer is suspected, further tests will be done in order to confirm and provide other important information. Colposcopy is the thorough examination of the cervix using an electric microscope. LEEP or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure uses a thin wire loop electrode to excise a cervical tissue for further evaluation.
Cervical cancer treatment depends on a variety of factors. These include the stage of the cancer, the size of the tumor as well as the woman’s general condition. In addition, a woman’s desire to bear children should also be taken into consideration because there are certain procedures that can hinder her to from doing so. Regardless of these factors, cervical cancer treatment, especially in early stages involve the removal of the cancerous tissue. Hysterectomy, or the removal of the uterus including part of the vagina, is often performed especially when cancer cells have significantly spread. Other treatments include radiation therapy and che3mtherapy.
However, in modern times, alternative treatments can be combined together with conventional treatment. Alternative cervical cancer treatment comprise of massage therapy, acupuncture, meditation and the use of herbal products. The use of herbal medicine is still a controversial issue among experts because although some clinical tests show the effectivity of green tea in killing cervical cancer cells, full human trial has never been done.
How can I protect myself from Cervical Cancer?
A Pap Smear Test done regularly is a helpful way for you to check your body for any signs of abnormalities with your cervix. Experts agree that women should have their first pap smears at the age of 21, and every two years thereafter. However, others would advise getting your first test immediately after your first sexual intercourse, regardless of age. One very important prevention is of course with the cervical cancer vaccine, which is widely available today.
Studies show that the vaccine is able to prevent early-stage cervical cancer as well as other related lesions. Finally, always practice safe sex. This means avoid sexually promiscuous partners as they could increase your risk for cancer. Lastly, never hesitate to consult with your doctor for any changes that you deem unusual. Remember that always and forever, prevention is better than cure.