The cervix is the bottom part or neck of the uterus.
Cervical Cancer is when the normal cells in the cervix change into abnormal cells and grow. It has a very good outcome if found and treated early. This is why a lot of emphasis is placed on prevention of this cancer.
What are the symptoms to look out for?
There might be no symptoms at first.
Most common symptom is vaginal bleeding.
This might occur:
- In between menstrual cycles
- After sex
- After menopause
If you notice any abnormal bleeding please see your doctor.
How do we test for cervical cancer?
A pap test/pap smear is the screening test for cervical cancer. Your health care provider looks inside your vagina using a speculum, then they use a small brush to collect cells from the cervix. This cells are examined under a microscope to detect any abnormal cells. A test can also be done at the same to check for a virus called HPV (Human Papillomavirus) which is a viral infection that can cause cervical cancer.
If the test results above are abnormal then your physician does a biopsy. At this time they remove a tiny piece of the abnormal tissue from the cervix. A colposcope (magnifying lens) is used to see the cervix better during the biopsy. A biopsy tells the doctor exactly what type of cells are present and helps the doctor stage the cancer.
What is cervical cancer staging?
Staging helps your physician find out how far your cancer has spread and this determines the treatment modality.
The right treatment also depends on your age, your other health problems, and desire for future pregnancy.
Treatment of Cervical cancer:
There are different ways to treat cervical cancer and this includes:
- Surgery: This will involve a radical hysterectomy- the removal of the cervix, uterus and upper vagina. OR removal of part of the cervix but leaving the uterus in place.
- Radiation therapy: the radiation kills the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy: using some medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
Most times chemotherapy is given at the same time as radiation therapy.
What happens after treatment?
After being treated for cervical cancer you need to continue to follow up with your physician. Follow up test will include exams, pap smears and x-rays.
What happens if the cancer spreads or re-occurs?
You will need to have more surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
Pregnancy and Cervical cancer
If you want to have a baby, talk to your doctor before your treatment. You can still get pregnant after being treated for cervical cancer. Some form of treatments cannot be done and this will include a hysterectomy, radiation therapy and some types of chemotherapy. You would need to wait 6 months to 1 year before trying to get pregnant to give your body time to heal.
Communication is very important when deciding treatment modalities. Ask your physician questions about your treatment options;
Find out the benefits of each treatment, symptoms associated with the treatment options, prognosis and length of treatment and life expectancy, side effects and also what happens without treatment.
Sexual issues after treatment
Changes after cervical cancer treatment include vaginal shortening, or narrowing, decreased lubrication. Women can also become postmenopausal due to destruction of the ovaries. This can also affect sexual satisfaction. Patient may experience pain during intercourse, difficulty in having intercourse at all due to narrowing or shortening of the vagina, difficulty having an orgasm and lack of interest in sex. Vaginal moisturizers or lubricants during intercourse can help. Hormonal therapy can also help reduce some of the symptoms. Vaginal dilators can also help prevent shortening and narrowing. Counselling and support groups are available for cancer survivors.
Can cervical cancer be prevented?
Like earlier mentioned cervical cancer is preventable. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by HPV which is spread through skin to skin contact and sex. Vaccines against HPV are now available. They work best if received before a person starts having sex. Also regular pap smears help with early detection. Pre-cancer cells (abnormal cells that are not yet cancerous) can be treated to prevent them from turning into cancer.
I believe that this blog has given you the right information in the prevention and care of this condition. Feel free to drop your questions in the comments section below.