Cervical cancer is the most common type of gynaecological cancer worldwide. It is also known to be the fifth leading cause of all cancer deaths. Cervical cancer affects nearly 16,000 of women every year. Cervical cancer symptoms do, and can mimic signs of Uterine cancer, endometriosis and other female problems; these are just a few.
Cancer of the cervix is a very common kind of cancer disease in women. This disease occurs when cancer (malignant) cells are found in the tissues of the cervix -- the opening of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina (birth canal).
Cancer of the cervix usually grows slowly over a period of time. Before cancer develops, cervical tissues change and cells that are not normal begin to appear (called dysplasia).
It is a very slow growing process and type of cancer and so therefore; it can sometimes nearly take up to several years before any noticeable signs or cervical cancer symptoms starts to show.
Early symptoms of cervical cancer can, and do vary, but are usually similar in nature.
Cervical cancer is caused by certain types of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a common sexually transmitted viral infection affecting an estimated 80% of sexually active women at some point in their lives. Most HPV infections clear by themselves but some high risk types can cause cell changes on the cervix that may lead to cervical cancer 10 to 20 years after infection.
There are more than 100 types of HPV infections, but only about 40 of these are linked to cervical cancer. While infection with HPV can cause conditions such as genital warts, it often causes no symptoms. Many women are therefore unaware they have contracted the virus.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
During the early stages of cervical cancer there are often no symptoms at all but the most common symptom experienced is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This bleeding may occur between periods, following sexual intercourse or after the menopause. Menstrual bleeding may also be heavier.
Other symptoms that may occur include:
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Excessive tiredness
- Lower back pain.
Normally, a pap smear can, and should show any abnormal cells or dysplasia (abnormal cell changes in the cervix); but finding the abnormal cells does not actually mean that you do have cancer.
All cancers are given a ‘stage’. The stage indicates the size of the tumour and the extent of its spread throughout the body. Cervical cancers may be given the following stages:
Abnormal cells are found in the first layer of cells lining the cervix.
The cancer is found only in the tissues of the cervix.
The cancer has spread beyond the cervix to the vaginea and tissues next to the cervix.
The cancer has spread throughout the pelvic area. It may involve the lower portion of the vagina, the ureters and surrounding lymph nodes.
The cancer has spread beyond the pelvic area to other parts of the body.
How is cervical cancer treated?
Treatments for cancer of the cervix depend on the stage of disease, the size of the tumor, age, overall physical condition and a woman’s desire to have children. There are three kinds of treatment for women with cancer of the cervix: surgery (removing the cancer in an operation), radiation therapy (using high-dose X-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells) and chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells).