Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cases of cervical cancer.

When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. However, in a small percentage of people, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancerous.

Fortunately, cervical cancer can often be successfully treated when it’s found early. It is usually detected through routine Pap tests. A Pap test is a procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix, which are then examined in a lab for any abnormalities.

Cervical Cancer

Vaccines are available to protect against the types of HPV that most commonly cause cervical cancer. Regular screening and early detection combined with the HPV vaccine can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Causes of Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is usually caused by the Human papillomavirus (HPV). Here are some factors that may increase the risk of developing this type of cancer:

1. HPV Infection: The most significant risk factor for cervical cancer is an infection with HPV. There are more than one hundred different types of HPV, but only some types are associated with cervical cancer, particularly HPV 16 and 18.

2. Multiple Sexual Partners: Women with multiple sexual partners have a higher risk of HPV infection and therefore are more likely to have cervical cancer.

3. Weakened Immune System: Women with weakened immune systems due to other health conditions, such as HIV, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

4. Smoking: Women who smoke are about twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as non-smokers due to chemicals in tobacco by-products causing DNA damage leading to cancer.

5. Long-Term Use of Contraceptive Pills: Studies have found that the long-term use of oral contraceptives may increase the risk of cervical cancer.

6. Early Sexual Activity: Having intercourse at a young age can increase the risk of HPV and eventually cervical cancer.

7. Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis also raises the risk.

8. Giving Birth to many children is also associated with an increased risk.

9. Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES): Daughters of women who took the drug DES during pregnancy (it was used to prevent miscarriages from 1940 to 1971) have a higher risk of a rare form of cervical cancer.

It’s important to remember though, risk factors just increase the likelihood of developing a disease, they don’t guarantee it will occur. Regular screening and vaccination can drastically reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Risk Factors of Cervical cancer

There are various risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. Here are some of the main ones:

1. Human papillomavirus (HPV) Infection: The most significant risk factor for cervical cancer is infection with HPV, particularly HPV types 16 and 18.

2. Weakened immune system: Women with a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV/AIDS, are more susceptible to HPV infections, which might increase the risk of cervical cancer.

3. Smoking: Women who smoke are twice as likely to get cervical cancer as non-smokers because toxic substances from tobacco can damage the DNA of cervix cells and contribute to the development of cervical cancer.

4. Sexual History: Certain sexual behaviors increase the risk of contracting HPV, such as having sex at an early age, having multiple sexual partners, or having a partner who has multiple sexual partners.

5. Long-term use of oral contraceptives: Women who have used oral contraceptives for five years or more are at risk.

6. Multiple pregnancies: Women who have had three or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk.

7. Socioeconomic status: Women in low-income situations or with reduced access to healthcare are more likely to develop cervical cancer because they may have less access to screening tests or vaccines.

8. Family history: If a woman’s mother or sister had cervical cancer, the chances of developing the disease are higher.

9. Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES): If a woman’s mother took Diethylstilbestrol (a drug used to prevent miscarriages or premature birth between 1940 and 1971), the risk of rare type of cervical and vaginal cancer may also be higher.

It’s important to stress that having one or more of these risk factors does not mean a woman will definitely get cervical cancer. It simply increases the risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer often shows no obvious signs or symptoms in its early stages, hence the importance of regular Pap smear tests for women. However, as the disease advances, one may experience a number of signs and symptoms. These include:

1. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding: This is the most common symptom of cervical cancer. It may occur between menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, after a pelvic exam, or after menopause.

2. Pelvic Pain: There might be pain during intercourse, or at other times. This pain could be sharp or dull and may increase as the condition worsens.

3. Unusual vaginal discharge: It may be watery, thick, heavy, or contains mucus. Sometimes, it can be mixed with blood.

4. Pain during Urination: Cervical cancer can lead to a blocked ureter causing kidney damage and pain during urination.

5. Unexplained Weight Loss: As is common with many forms of cancer, unexplained weight loss can be a symptom of cervical cancer.

6. Fatigue: Constant fatigue that does not improve with rest can be a symptom.

7. Swollen or painful legs: In advanced stages, cervical cancer can cause leg pain or swelling.

8. Kidney Failure: In severe cases, the cancer can block the flow of urine from kidneys to the bladder, leading to kidney failure. This may be accompanied by back pain.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be associated with other health conditions. Therefore, if you experience any such symptoms, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.

Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from causing harm. But in a small group of women, the virus survives for years, leading to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.

Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the symptoms may include: vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause, watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor, and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.

Screening tests and HPV vaccination can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early. Cervical cancer that’s detected early may be easier to treat.

Treatment of cervical cancer typically involves surgery (such as a hysterectomy, which is a surgery to remove the uterus), radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and preferences, play a role in choosing the most suitable treatment option.

Therefore, regular pelvic exams and Pap testing can detect precancerous changes in the cervix that might lead to cervical cancer.

Treatment of Cervical cancer

Treating cervical cancer typically involves a multidisciplinary team of specialists including an oncologist, a radiologist, and a gynaecological surgeon. Treatment decision is based on various factors like the stage of the cancer, patient’s general health, and their preferences. Below are some common treatment options:

1. Surgery: The most common treatment for cervical cancer particularly at early stages. It may involve removing the tumor, part or all of the cervix (hysterectomy), or even more extensive surgery in severe cases.

surgery

2. Radiation Therapy: High-energy X-rays or other radiation particles are used to kill cancer cells. This can be done externally where radiation is directed at the pelvis, or internally (brachytherapy) where a small radioactive device is placed directly into your cervix.

3. Chemotherapy: In this case, drugs are used to kill cancer cells. It can be given intravenously or orally. Often, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy (chemoradiation), as it can enhance the effects of the radiation.

4. Targeted Therapy: This newer form of cancer treatment involves use of drugs or substances that block the growth of cancer by interfering with specific molecules.

5. Immunotherapy: In advanced stages, this treatment method might be used. It uses your body’s immune system to fight cancer.

6. Palliative Care: This specializes in relieving pain and providing emotional support when cancer has reached an advanced stage.

Second opinion can also be considered for further treatment options. Treatment for cervical cancer can cause several side effects, so discussing the potential risks and benefits with the health care team is a vital part of the decision-making process. Please consult with your healthcare provider to understand more about your specific treatment options and what could work best for you.

Medications commonly used for Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer can be treated with a variety of medications, usually used in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. Here are some of the most commonly used types of medications:

1. Chemotherapy Drugs: These medications are designed to kill fast-growing cancer cells and can be used either before or after surgery. Commonly used chemotherapy drugs for cervical cancer are cisplatin, carboplatin, paclitaxel, topotecan, and gemcitabine.

2. Targeted Therapy Drugs: These are newer cancer treatment drugs and specifically target cancer cells which cause less harm to normal cells than chemotherapy drugs. An example of targeted therapy drugs for cervical cancer is bevacizumab (Avastin), which stops the formation of a blood supply to the cancer cells.

3. Immunotherapy Drugs: Some patients with advanced cervical cancer might receive immunotherapy, a type of body’s immune system drug, to help fight the disease. Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is an example that blocks a protein known as PD-1 that acts as a kind of brake on immune cells.

4. Radiosensitizers: These are drugs used during radiation therapy to make cancer cells more susceptible to radiation treatment. Typical radiosensitizers used in cervical cancer treatment include cisplatin and 5-FU.

Please note all these medications can cause side effects. It’s important to discuss these with your doctor before beginning a treatment regimen. Also, treatment can always vary depending on patient’s specific condition and overall health status.

Prevention of Cervical cancer

Preventing cervical cancer often involves regular screening and adopting certain lifestyle habits. Here’s a brief list of some preventive measures:

1. Regular Pap tests: Pap tests help detect abnormal cells in the cervix. If precancerous cells are found, they can often be treated before they have a chance to turn into cancer.

2. HPV Vaccination: The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is highly effective in preventing certain types of HPV, especially types 16 and 18, which are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine is generally recommended for girls and boys around ages 11 or 12, but it can be given as early as 9 and up until age 26.

3. Safe Sexual Practices: Limit the number of sexual partners and use protection during intercourse. This can reduce the risk of HPV, which is often transmitted sexually and can lead to cervical cancer.

4. Quit Smoking: Smoking increases your risk of developing many types of cancer, including cervical cancer.

5. Eat a balanced diet: Consuming a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help reduce risk.

6. Regular follow-ups: If you are diagnosed with a precancerous condition, regular follow-up tests and treatment as recommended by your physician can stop cervical cancer before it starts.

Remember to always discuss these strategies with a healthcare provider who can provide guidance based on your personal health history and risks.

FAQ’s about Cervical cancer

1. What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman’s cervix, the lower part of the uterus.

2. What causes cervical cancer?
Most cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed from one person to another during sex.

3. How can you prevent cervical cancer?
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get regular screening tests and receive the HPV vaccine if eligible.

4. Who is at risk of cervical cancer?
All women are at risk of cervical cancer, but the risk increases with age, particularly in those with prolonged HPV infection. Other risks include smoking, having HIV, long-term use of birth control pills, and having given birth to three or more children.

5. What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages, cervical cancer often doesn’t have symptoms. In the later stages, symptoms can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, pain during intercourse, lower back pain, and blood in your urine.

6. How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Cervical cancer can be detected through a Pap smear or an HPV test. If any abnormalities are found, further tests such as a colposcopy or biopsy may be needed.

7. How is cervical cancer treated?
Treatment depends on the size of the tumor, the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. Options can include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

8. What is the HPV vaccine and how does it work?
The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancers. It is usually given to girls and boys aged 11 or 12 years, but it can be provided to younger or older individuals.

9. What does a Pap test do?
A Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, which are changes in cells on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they’re not treated properly.

10. Can cervical cancer be cured?
When detected at an early stage, cervical cancer is generally curable. Regular screenings can help detect cervical cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage.

Remember, it’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider for medical advice concerning cervical cancer or any other health issues.

Useful links

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.

Here are some useful links to journals related to cervical cancer:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30064936/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32091347/

Please note that access to some of these journals might require subscription. Also, it’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals for medical advice.

Each journal has its search bar. To access information related to cervical cancer, you can type “cervical cancer” in their search bar to find related articles.

Complications of Cervical cancer

If diagnosed at an early stage and managed effectively, cervical cancer is generally treatable. However, like many types of cancer, it can lead to a variety of complications. Here are a few:

1. Metastasis: This is the spread of the cancer from the cervix to other parts of the body. It may affect nearby organs, lymph nodes, or more distant parts of the body like lungs, liver, or bones.

2. Sexual Health Problems: Treatment for cervical cancer can affect the functioning of the reproductive system, leading to sexual dysfunction or infertility.

3. Psychological stress: Diagnosis, treatment, and management of the disease can lead to significant psychological stress, impacting mental health. The person may suffer from depression or anxiety or may need help to cope with a changed body image or reduced sexual function.

4. Effects of treatment: Common treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Each of these treatments carries risks, including pain, discomfort, nausea, fatigue, hair loss, skin irritation, and decrease in blood cell counts leading to anemia or infection.

5. Bladder and bowel problems: Radiation, especially, can sometimes damage the bladder or rectum, causing problems with urination or bowel movements. These problems can often be managed and may improve over time.

6. Lymphedema: This is a potential complication from removing lymph nodes during treatment. It is a build-up of lymph fluid that can cause pain and swelling in the legs.

7. Early menopause: Some treatments can cause the ovaries to stop producing hormones, leading to early menopause in premenopausal women.

8. Long-term side effects of radiation: These include possible increased risk of other cancers in later years and potential damage to the bowel, bladder, or kidneys.

9. Other health risks: The HPV virus, which causes most cases of cervical cancer, may also cause other types of cancer, including vulvar, vaginal, anal, penile, and head and neck cancers.

Managing these complications often involves a combination of therapeutic medicine, lifestyle modifications, and support from various healthcare professionals. As an individual’s outcome can be highly variable, it’s important to have regular check-ups and screenings, and to discuss symptoms and potential complications at every stage with your healthcare provider.

Home remedies of Cervical cancer

While no home remedy can replace the conventional medical treatment for cervical cancer, there are supportive strategies that individuals can use to maintain their health, manage side effects of treatment, and improve overall well-being.

1. A Healthy Diet: A well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help the body heal and fight cancer.

2. Physical Exercise: Regular exercise can help a patient stay strong, reduce fatigue, improve mood, and alleviate stress.

3. Psychological Support: Some patients may find it beneficial to speak with a therapist or join a support group, which can provide emotional and psychological relief.

4. Meditation: Techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, and stress-relief exercises may help reduce anxiety and improve overall mental health.

5. Adequate Sleep: Getting enough rest can help the body fight off disease better.

6. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM): Some people find relief in acupuncture, massage, and herbal medicines, which can help alleviate the side effects of conventional treatments. Always check with your doctor before starting any complimentary treatments.

7. Herbal Remedies: Certain herbs, such as turmeric, ginger, and garlic, are thought to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Again, it is crucial to discuss with your healthcare provider before starting any herbal remedies, as some could interact with chemotherapy or other treatments.

8. Hydration: It is crucial to stay well-hydrated, which can help prevent constipation, a common side effect of certain cancer treatments.

It is essential to remember that none of these home remedies can cure or replace medical treatment for cervical cancer. They are supportive tools that can help improve a patient’s quality of life during and after cancer treatment. Always consult with the healthcare provider first about any remedies or supplements to avoid dangerous interactions. If you suspect you have cervical cancer, seek immediate medical advice. Regular Pap smear tests and HPV vaccinations are key to early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.

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Last Update: December 30, 2023