Cancer is caused when cells divide abnormally and uncontrollably. If not treated in the early stages, cancers can spread to the surrounding tissue. Cancer is named after where it initially begins. Cervical cancer refers to the type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the canal that connects your vagina to your uterus. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells appear on the cervix. If left untreated, these cells will develop into cervical cancer, and over time it will spread through to the surrounding tissues.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
There are little to no symptoms to detect the early stages of cervical cancer. The symptoms begin to appear when cancer has spread through. However, there may be some symptoms that may occur in the initial stages in some women. Those are,
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Heavier periods than normal
- Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Vaginal discharge that has a strong odor
In the later stages of cervical cancer, the following symptoms may occur in a patient.
- Painful urination that may contain blood
- Painful bowel movements that may contain blood
- Swollen legs
- Pain in the back and the abdomen
If you have any of the above symptoms or a combination of the symptoms, it is best to check in with your doctor, as these symptoms may indicate other health conditions as well.
Stages of cervical cancer
All cancers have stages depending on how far the cancer has spread through the body. Knowing which stage you are at in your cancer will give a gist of what treatment plans are the best for you. There are four stages when it comes to cervical cancer.
- Stage one – The cancer cells are only found in the cervix. Cancer has not yet spread to surrounding tissues.
- Stage two – The cancer cells are found in the uterus as well as the surrounding tissues.
- Stage three – Cancer has spread to the vagina as well as the pelvic walls. It may have spread to the lymph nodes as well.
- Stage four – Cancer has spread throughout the body. This stage is also called metastatic cancer. This explains that cancer has spread to distant parts of the body from the initial point of cancer.
When it comes to cervical cancer, there are recurrent cervical cancers as well. This means cancer reappears after a certain amount of time, even if it has been treated.
Causes of cervical cancer
While many cancers do not have a pinpoint reason for getting them, most cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections. Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is a sexually transmitted infection. HPV is also one of the most common STIs in the world. There are over 100 types of HPV out there. Some types of viruses can actually link to causing cancer in the genital regions, such as cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, penile cancer, and rectum cancer. HPV is most definitely a reason why most women get cervical cancer; however, not everyone who gets HPV develops cervical cancer.
It is almost impossible to avoid HPV infections if they are sexually active. Most people are unaware whether they are actually infected by HPV since they do not get symptoms of HPV. Even if someone is infected, HPV usually goes away on its own in a certain time period. A person’s immune system does this. However, long-lasting high-risk HPV types can eventually develop into cancer over time. This happens as abnormalities occur in the cells infected by HPV.
HPV plays a key role in cervical cancer; however, contracting HPV does not mean that you are bound to get cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by other factors too. Those factors are,
- Weakened immune system – Having a weakened immune system reduces one’s ability to fight infections. This includes HPV infections as well. A person who has contracted Human Immunodeficiency Viruses (HIV) will have a weakened immune system. The use of certain medications also causes a weakened immune system.
- Having sex at an early age – Having sexual intercourse before the age of 18 increases the chances of you getting a long-lasting and high-risk HPV infection.
- Having many sexual partners – Your sexual history also plays a part, as having many sexual partners can expose you to high-risk HPV infection.
- Smoking – If you have a habit of smoking, this can also be a reason for developing cervical cancer.
- Reproductive factors – The use of oral contraceptives and giving birth to many children have also been linked to developing cervical cancer.
Who is at risk of developing cervical cancer? Cervical cancer can develop in anyone who has a cervix. However, women over 30 and women who have a certain type of HPV infection are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
How to prevent cervical cancer from developing
A main cause of developing cervical cancer is through contracting HPV. By preventing HPV infections, many cervical cancers can be prevented. Also, cervical cancers can be cured if detected in the early stages.
To prevent an HPV infection, the HPV vaccine can be taken. HPV vaccine is effective and safe when taken in the right age group. However, it may not be as effective if a person is already infected with HPV. Since HPV is mainly transferred through sexual intercourse and other sex-related activities, it is recommended to have the vaccine before a person becomes sexually active. The HPV vaccine is recommended from age nine onwards to the age of 26. After the age of 26, one can decide to get the vaccine till the age of 45 if there is a new risk of HPV infection, such as getting a new sexual partner.
While recognizing the symptoms of cervical cancer in its early stages is nearly impossible, it is good to keep up with routine cervical cancer screening if you feel you are at risk. This will help you to detect cervical cancer in the early stages, thus allowing you to treat it.