Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Only women can get cervical cancer. The cervix is the area in between the uterus and the vagina. This area is tightly closed when a woman is pregnant in order to protect the fetus. Just what causes cancer of the cervix is unknown, but women at risk ate those who:

  • Smoke

  • Take oral contraception

  • Have many sexual partners

  • Beginning sexual intercourse before the age of 18

  • Contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV).

Although there is no cure for cervical cancer, it can be successfully treated if caught early enough. This is why it is so important for sexually active women to get a cervical smear (or PAP smear) every year. Even celibate women should get a cervical smear every two years.

In recent years, HPV vaccines have become available for girls who have started their periods but not yet become sexually active. The vaccine is useless once a girl begins sexual relations because she has been exposed to HPV.

Common Symptoms

Women do not begin showing symptoms of cervical cancer until the cancer is fairly large. This is another reason why cervical smear tests are so important, because they can detect cancer cells before a woman feels any symptoms. When the symptoms to manifest, they cause:

  • Vaginal bleeding in between periods

  • Vaginal bleeding after a woman has gone through menopause, or has not had a period in one year

  • Pain during sex

  • Vaginal bleeding after sex

  • Vaginal bleeding after douching

  • Vaginal bleeding after a routine gynecological exam, even without having a cervical smear performed

  • Periods with much more blood than usual or last much longer.

Any girl or woman experiencing any of these symptoms needs to see a gynecologist as soon as possible.

Diagnosis

If a PAP smear comes back positive or if a woman is experiencing these symptoms, then more tests are needed to determine that this is cervical cancer and not another condition such as endometriosis. These tests include:

  • Colonoscopy or examination of the colon with a tiny camera at the end of a tube

  • Punch biopsy: where cervical skin is removed with a scalpel

  • LEEP biopsy: instead of using a scalpel, a wire loop takes the skin sample

  • Endocervical curretage: like a punch biopsy, but goes deeper into the tissue. Women are usually sedated or given painkillers before and after this test.

  • Conization: Where a cone-shaped piece of cervical tissue is removed. Women must be under anesthesia for this test.

  • Imaging: this can be done with a variety of tools such as an X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound. This helps determine where tumors are.

Women may wish to get second opinions of these diagnoses.

Treatment

Treatment for cervical cancer depends upon the health of the woman and how advanced the cancer is. If the cancer is confined to just the cervix, then chances of a full recovery are much better than if the cancer has spread to other body parts such as the vagina, uterus or kidneys.

Treatments include surgery to remove the tumors and a combination of radiation and chemotherapy drugs to shrink tumors or halt the spread of the cancer. If a woman does not plan on having children, then she may be advised to get a hysterectomy in addition to any cervical cancer surgeries.

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