Womens Health

An Overview of Cervical Cancer

What is Cervical Cancer?

Like breast cancer and ovarian cancer, cervical cancer is female specific and affects a woman’s reproductive system. Cervical Cancer affects the cervix; the lower part of the uterus that opens at the top of the vagina. More specifically, cervical cancer begins in the cells on the surface of the cervix called squamous cells, and can spread to other parts of the body such as the bladder, intestines, lungs, and liver.

The development of cervical cancer is extremely slow. A doctor can detect the pre-cancerous condition that leads to cervical cancer during a routine pap smear. This condition is known as dysplasia, and is 100% curable. This is what makes routine screenings for early detection of cervical cancer symptoms so critical.

Cervical Cancer Causes and Risk Factors

Cervical Cancer is most commonly caused by a virus known as HPV (human papillomavirus). The HPV Virus is sexually transmitted in most cases, and only certain strains of the HPV virus can lead to cervical cancer.

When a woman is exposed to HPV, her immune system will usually prevent the virus from causing any harm. However, in some cases the HPV virus can survive for years before converting the cells of the cervix into cancer cells.

Some of the risk factors associated with cervical cancer include:


  • Having multiple sexual partners, which increases the chances of HPV transmission
  • Early sexual activity since immature cells are more susceptible to the effects of HPV
  • Having other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as genital herpes, chlamydia, or HIV
  • Prolonged use of birth control pills (over 5 years)
  • A weakened immune system
  • Cigarette smoking which increases the risk of precancerous changes

Cervical Cancer Signs and Symptoms

In most cases, no signs of cervical cancer appear during the early stages. However, if symptoms of cervical cancer are experienced, they may include some of the following:


  • Abnormal vaginal discharge that is watery, bloody, pink, brown, heavy, or foul-smelling
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, or pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause
  • Heavy periods that last longer than usual

Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer in advanced stages include:


  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Pelvic or back pain
  • Leg pain or swelling
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding or leaking urine
  • Weakness and fatigue

Cervical Cancer Prevention, Screening, and Diagnosis

The Pap Smear is the most effective method of prevention when it comes to cervical cancer. This is because a pap test can indicate precancerous changes (as well as cancerous ones) by analyzing the cells of the cervix.

An abnormal pap smear will lead to further examination. A doctor will perform a colposcopy, in which the cervix is examined under magnification, and a sample of tissue is surgically removed for laboratory examination.

Your doctor may also want to perform an HPV DNA test, which is similar to a pap smear, to determine whether you are infected with HPV.

A cervical cancer vaccine is also available for protection against HPV, and is recommended for young women between the ages of 11-26. The HPV vaccine is most effective on women who have never been sexually active.

Cervical Cancer Treatment

Cervical cancer can be caught early at its pre-invasive stage. This means that only the outer layer of the cervix is affected and cancer has not spread to other parts of the body such as the upper vagina or pelvic regions. At this point, the condition is not life-threatening and typically requires surgical treatment to kill cancerous cells on an outpatient basis. These include:


  • Conization (scalpel removal)
  • Laser Surgery
  • LEEP (electric current)
  • Cryotherapy (freezing)

The following treatment options are available in the later stages of cervical cancer:


  • Hysterectomy or the surgical removal of the uterus
  • Radical Trachelectomy which preserves part of the uterus and cervix so that you may be able to carry a child
  • Radiation Treatment involving high-energy rays to help shrink the tumor
  • Chemotherapy, which involves anti-cancer drug therapy to enhance the effects of radiation treatment


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