Cervical Cancer: Everything you must know
Dr. Kavitha Jain

Dr. Kavitha Jain

Feb 04Sexual health

Cervical Cancer: Everything you must know

Cancer is an uncontrolled growth of cells in a particular body region that can damage the tissue around it and spread to other organs in the body. These abnormal cells result in a mass (tumour) in the affected region.

Cervical cancer starts at the cervix - the lowermost portion of the uterus that connects the vagina to the uterus and is a part of the female reproductive system. It is a transition zone where multiple cells are growing and falling out.

At what age can a woman get cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer can happen in women from 15-44 years of age, basically the reproductive group. However, in rare cases, women above the age of 44 may also get it. Cervical cancer is a slow-evolving disease that spans over 10-15 years, making regular cervical PAP smears necessary to detect abnormal cells.

Causes of cervical cancer

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the primary cause of cervical cancers. Even though there are many varieties of HPV, only certain types cause cervical cancer. This virus is transmitted through sexual contact and can affect the genitals, mouth or throat.

Other risk factors of cervical cancer

Even though HPV is one of the most common causes of cervical cancer, many other factors can increase your risk.

  • Having multiple sex partners
  • Those affected with sexually transmitted diseases
  • Weak immunity - It includes HIV patients, patients who have undergone a transplant or and are taking immunosuppressants. These drugs lower the strength of the immune system, so they help minimise the body’s ability to reject transplanted organs.
  • Having three or more pregnancies
  • Smoking
  • Prolonged use of oral contraceptive pills
  • Having the first childbirth before 20 years of age
  • Lower socio-economic class - Women from this strata usually do not have appropriate hygiene facilities. Having unprotected sex also increases the risk of HPV infections.
  • Genetic changes

Symptoms of cervical cancer

In the earlier stages of cervical cancer, the symptoms are very generic as they can also occur during more common benign diseases. Yet, if you notice any of the below-mentioned symptoms, you must immediately visit your doctor.

  • Bleeding in between the periods
  • Heavier than usual bleeding during your periods
  • Pain during or after intercourse
  • Bleeding after having intercourse
  • Foul-smelling discharge from your vagina
  • Pelvic pain or discomfort

    In a more advanced disease, symptoms may vary from:
  • Blood in urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Blood in stools
  • Stools or urine passing through your vagina

cervical cancer

Cervical cancer diagnosis

The PAP smear and HPV test help diagnose cervical cancer. The following two tests are done in a hospital visit where the doctor collects cells from your cervix and sends them for evaluation.

PAP Smear - This test can detect atypical cells in the cervix. It is a simple clinic test.

HPV test - This is another HPV screening test to determine if there is HPV in your cervix. It enhances the value of the test as this virus can cause cervical cancer. It also helps the doctors decide if the patient needs further biopsy or not. A colposcopic exam is where the doctor can see your cervix more closely to look for changes in its cells.

Biopsy - A confirmatory test to prove the presence of cervical cancer. If the results from any of the above tests may seem suspicious.

Imaging - If your tests are positive and cervical cancer is confirmed, the next step is medical imaging to understand the spread of cancer. It includes an MRI of the pelvis and CT Scan of the chest and upper abdomen, and the results will determine the stage of cancer.

How long can the treatments take?

Regarding treatment, depending on your stage or extent of spread, your care team and your oncologist may recommend surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy or a combination of two or all of these treatments. Each treatment comes with its fair share of risks and benefits. It is a great idea to discuss any possible questions you may have with your doctor prior to the treatment. It is also crucial that you have support in the form of caregivers, friends and family to keep you motivated through treatment and recovery.

Cervical cancer prevention

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer affecting women in India. Hence, regular screenings and health checkups are the most important among other prevention methods.

Go for regular health checkups

It is the most crucial step to prevent yourself from various diseases. Get yourself regularly screened to keep yourself updated about your health.

Start PAP tests and HPV tests from the age of 25

You must get a PAP smear done once every 3 years or a PAP smear plus HPV test once every 5 years.

Get the HPV vaccine

The HPV vaccines are readily available nowadays. The doctor can administer this vaccine to boys and girls between the ages of 9-13 years. This vaccine can prevent 60-90% of the cases. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI) recommends the HPV vaccine for women between 9 to 45 years of age, if not already immunised. The vaccine has high effectiveness and minimal to no side effects. Click here to know m ore about our HPV vaccination services.

Have protected sex

There is a transmission of the HPV virus through sexual intercourse. Hence, it is better to wear condoms while having sex to eliminate the chances of spreading the HPV infection or any other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections).

Quit smoking

Smoking is one of the risk factors for developing cervical cancer. Therefore, it is necessary to quit smoking as a preventive measure.

Can cervical cancer happen more than once?

The higher the stage of cancer at diagnosis, the higher the chance of it recurring even after treatment. But, for each patient, it is a different experience. Whether you have undergone surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, there is always a chance of its recurrence. Hence, there is a continuous follow up after the treatment is over.

After completion of the treatment: follow up once in every 3 months.

After 2 years post-treatment: follow up once in every 6 months.

After 5 years post-treatment: follow up once every year

Is cervical cancer fatal?

Yes, cervical cancer can be fatal in the advanced stage, once it spreads to the lungs and other vital organs. Since the cervix is close to the urinary bladder, it may even block the urine pipes. There is a possibility of kidney failure as well.

You must be aware and go for regular checkups. If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer at an early stage, then the disease will not be fatal.

Is there a relationship between cervical cancer and pregnancy?

Pregnancy does not cause cervical cancer. Women who have had their first pregnancy under 20 years of age or have had 3 or more pregnancies, they have a risk of cervical cancer.

What happens if a woman is detected with cervical cancer during pregnancy?

If a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer during pregnancy, the treatment depends on the stage of cancer and trimester of pregnancy. In the second and third trimester, chemotherapy can be considered. Radiation treatment needs to be discussed with the doctor. Surgery can be an option in the early stage and for a woman willing to terminate the pregnancy. In a few cases where the woman insists on continuing the pregnancy, the doctor may consider limited resections. Therefore, after a thorough discussion with the pregnant woman, the doctor can decide a treatment plan.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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