Changes in the cervix are often caused by a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). Not all, but some of the HPV infections can lead to cervical cancer.
Who can get Cervical Cancer?
Because HPV is so common, any woman who has ever had sex can get cervical cancer. But, most women who get HPV do not get cervical cancer. Women who get their tests as often as they should are least likely to get cervical cancer.
Some women have a greater chance of getting cervical cancer if they:
- Have sex at an early age
- Have HIV or AIDS
- Smoke (cigarettes carry chemicals to the bloodstream and can affect cells)
- Weakened immune system
- Have HPV and it doesn’t go away
- Taking contraceptive pills for more than eight years
Symptoms and Signs
Abnormal cervical cell changes rarely cause symptoms. But you may have symptoms if those cell changes grow into cervical cancer. Most cases develop in women in their 30s or 40s. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal
- Bleeding when something comes in contact with your cervix, such as during sex or when you put in a diaphragm.
- Pain during sex.
- Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.
- Vaginal discharge that does not stop, and may be pale, watery, pink, brown, bloody, or foul-smelling
Cervical cancer may spread to the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver.
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly. It starts as a precancerous condition called dysplasia which can be detected by a regular cervical screening test called Pap smear test and is 100% treatable. It can take years for these changes to turn into cervical cancer. Most women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer today have not had regular Pap smear test.
Visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If you have had an abnormal smear test, you might be referred to a specialist who will arrange more of the tests. These tests can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor decide on the right treatment for you.
What are the treatment options for cervical cancer?
Treatment options may include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. The treatment advised for each case depends on various factors. For example, the stage of the cancer (how large the primary cancer tumour is and whether it has spread), and your general health.
You should have a full discussion with a specialist who knows your case. They will be able to give the pros and cons, likely success rate, possible side-effects, and other details about the various possible treatment options for your type and stage of cancer. You should also discuss with your specialist the aims of treatment.
Depending on how much the cancer has grown, you may have one or more treatments. If you have a hysterectomy, you won’t be able to have children. But a hysterectomy isn’t always needed, especially when cancer is found very early.The following is an interview on a Cervical Cancer Surviver.
Cervical Cancer Survivor
Age: 35 (25 at diagnosis)
When I was 25, I was living in Washington, DC, working as a television producer and loving life. I felt great and healthy, so I put off getting my routine Pap test for a few years. I thought it could wait.
When I finally did go for a check-up, I got the shock of my life. I had cervical cancer. I was devastated, and I asked myself how this was possible. I was too young and too strong for this.
My doctor recommended a radical hysterectomy, which meant I would not be able to have kids, something I had always hoped for. I searched for second opinions to understand my options. But in the end, I had the hysterectomy. I also had chemotherapy and radiation.
I was depressed, but with the support of my family and friends, I finished treatment.
Now I’m cancer-free and enjoying life! I learned just how important it is to have a Pap test regularly. If I hadn’t had that Pap test that led to my cancer diagnosis, I might not be here today. I’m living proof that screening can find cervical cancer at an early stage, when treatment works best.
The Pap test actually helps prevent cervical cancer. It can find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated before they turn into cancer. I’m a big believer in telling women about the benefits of the Pap test. In fact, in 2005, I founded Tamika & Friends, a non-profit, community-based organization dedicated to raising awareness about cervical cancer and human papillomavirus (HPV).
I hope other women learn from my experience and make sure to have their Pap tests as recommended.