The cervix is also called cervical head and the lower part of the uterus. The uterus is where a baby grows during pregnancy. This cancer begins when cells located on the surface of the cervix change their appearance to a precancerous condition called dysplasia. As indicated by the ‘precancerous’ name, the cells are not cancer yet, but can still change and become cancerous if they are not removed in time.
This cancer develops slowly, allowing to detect in its early stage and eliminate it before it becomes more dangerous. These changes can be detected easily with the Pap test or Pap smear and the condition can be cured in all cases. Therefore, it is very important that women go through Pap once a year.
If precancerous condition is not detected, probably it will become cancerous and treatment will have to be stronger and the chance to remove the cancer is lower. Each year 11,000 women are diagnosed with this cancer in the United States.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers caused by a virus. The Human Papilloma Virus or HPV causes almost all cases of cervical cancer. HPV is a family of viruses and not all of them cause cervical cancer. Some cause cancer, others cause genital warts and others do not cause any problem.
This virus spreads during sex and using condoms does not totally block infection. Being caused by a virus, it has enabled scientists to develop a vaccine against this cancer.
Risk factors include situations increasing the chance of infection with the virus including;
- Initiation of sexual activity at an early age.
- Having multiple sexual partners.
- Have sexual partners who in turn have multiple partners or who practice high-risk sexual activities.
- Having a weak immune system.
- Mothers who took the drug DES during pregnancy to prevent abortion.
In most cases, cervical cancer grows without causing any discomfort. But in other cases the following symptoms may indicate its presence;
- Vaginal bleeding between periods or after sex.
- Any bleeding after menopause.
- Any kind of vaginal discharge may be watery consistency and a pale, pink, bloody or colored with odor.
If these symptoms recur, it is advisable to consult a gynecologist, who is a specialist in women’s diseases.
In advanced cases, symptoms may include;
- Weight loss
- Pain in the pelvis, legs, or back
- Loss of appetite
- Very heavy constant bleeding from vagina
- Output of urine or feces from vagina
It is imperative to see a doctor immediately if these symptoms are present.
The best defense against cervical cancer is to have yearly checkups with gynecologist even if none of the above symptoms are present. Remember, cancer is a silent enemy that usually gives no warning of its presence, so we must take the lead and detect when it is just beginning.