Cancer of The Cervix – Symptoms And Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer A Woman Must Know

Cancer of The Cervix – Symptoms And Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer A Woman Must Know

Every year millions of women hear that terrifying phrase from the doctor ‘You have cancer’. While breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer has impacted lives of millions of women, cervical cancer is no less severe. We will discuss cervical cancer in detail, one of the top 5 cancers in women.

Cervical Cancer

Cervix is the tubular shaped lower portion of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The cervix plays many important functions such as allowing passage of menstrual fluids, sperm as well as child during delivery. Any abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth in the cervix is called as cancer of the cervix or cervical cancer.

If caught early enough, cervical cancer can be successfully treated. Typically, pap smear test is used to detect cervical cancer.

What causes cervical cancer?

Most cervical cancer occurs due to infection caused by strains of human papillomavirus (HPV). One can get HPV through sexual contact. Going by this, most of the adults have been infected with HPV. However, not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Infection might go away on its own or may not cause any symptoms.

When a woman is exposed to this virus, the immune system typically protects her from doing any harm. But in a small group of women, the virus can survive for many years, contributing to the process in which healthy cells becomes abnormal, hence causing cancer.

The accumulation of abnormal cells forms tumor that could further metastasize or spread to other parts of the body. Experts don't know what exactly causes normal healthy cells mutation, but they are certain that HPV does play a role.

Cervical cancer statistics

According to WHO, in women, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer type in the world. In India, cervical cancer is the second most common cause of cancer in women. As per a 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Medical and Pediatric Oncology with reference to WHO figures, India accounts for third of all cases of cervical cancer deaths in the world.

According to National Health Portal, India with 436.76 million of female population (approx 30 percent of total population) aged 15 and above are at the risk of developing cervical cancer.

While the comfort factor is that India has seen a decline in the incidence of cervical cancer in the past three decades, yet rural areas are still not out of the woods due to poor hygiene and lack of sanitation.

Types of cervical cancer

There are basically two types of cervical cancer. The type will further determine the prognosis and course of treatment.

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma – This kind of cancer develops in the thin, squamous cells (flat cells) lining the outer portion of the cervix (exocervix), projecting into the vagina. Squamous cells carcinoma accounts for most of the cervical cancer cases.
  2. Adenocarcinoma – In this type of cancer, cancer begins in the glandular cells that are column-shaped cells lining the cervical canal.

In some cases, both the types of cells mentioned above are involved in the formation of tumor. It’s extremely rare that cancer develops in other cells in the cervix.

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What are the signs of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer does not show any signs or symptoms, especially in the initial stages of the disease. In advanced stages, a woman might experience:

  • Vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal discharge which may be watery, blood-tinged and having foul smell
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain while urinating
  • Frequent urination

Most of these symptoms might mimic other conditions. So, checking with the doctor is always important.

What puts a woman at risk of getting cervical cancer?

Having certain risk factors may increase your chances of getting cervical cancer. But keep in mind, risk factors only raise the likelihood of developing the condition, they do not ascertain that you will develop the disease.

  • Sexual activeness at an early age
  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Suffering from other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis
  • Weak or suppressed immune system
  • Smoking
  • History of HPV infection

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above or your lifestyle puts you on the list of risk factors, talk to the doctor without delay. The diagnostic procedure for cervical cancer such as Pap Smear can do wonders well before cancer invades your body.