Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women worldwide. In 2018, there were an estimated 528,000 new cases of cervical cancer and 266,000 deaths from cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is more common in developing countries than in developed countries. Individuals can prevent the majority of cervical cancer cases with vaccination and screening.
The leading cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus. HPV is a group of viruses that can infect the cervix and other body parts. There are over 100 types, and some can cause cancer.
Human papillomavirus is a virus that can cause warts or cancer. There are many types of HPV; some can cause more severe problems than others. Most people with the infection never have any symptoms, and the virus goes away. But in some people, it can cause health problems like genital warts or cancer.
There are two main types of HPV: high-risk and low-risk. High-risk can lead to cancer, while low-risk does not usually cause cancer. However, both types can cause genital warts.
High-risk HPV is the most common type that leads to cancer. It is responsible for about 70% of all cervical cancers. There are more than 15 types of high-risk HPV, including 16 and 18. These types are often found in women who have cervical cancer.
Low-risk HPV is the less common type that does not usually lead to cancer. However, it can still cause genital warts. Low-risk HPV is responsible for about 90% of all genital warts cases. There are more than 30 types of low-risk HPV, including 6 and 11.
A person can get the virus through sexual contact with someone who has it. Papilloma is prevalent, and many people will get it at some point. About 80% of women will have HPV at some point. Most people with HPV do not even know they have it because there are usually no symptoms. Most people who are sexually active will get it at some point in their lives.
Many people with Papilloma virus do not develop cancer, but some types of HPV are more likely to lead to cancer than others. The two most common types of HPV that can cause cervical cancer are HPV 16 and HPV 18. These types of HPV link to other types of cancer, including cancers of the vulva, vagina, penis, anus, and throat.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer.
- HIV: Women with HIV are more likely to develop cervical cancer.
- Long-term use of birth control pills: Women who have used birth control pills for five or more years have a slightly higher risk of cervical cancer.
- DES exposure: Women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero (in the womb) have an increased risk of cervical cancer. DES is a synthetic form of estrogen given to pregnant women in the United States between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriages.
- Other cancers: Women with a history of other types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, are at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Family history: Women with a family history of cervical cancer are at increased risk of developing the disease.
- Weak immune system: Women with a weakened immune system, such as women with HIV or those taking immunosuppressive medications, are at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do occur, they may include:
- Abnormal bleeding can include bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause.
- Pelvic pain can be a sign of more advanced cervical cancer.
- Vaginal discharge: This may be watery, bloody, or brownish.
- Pain during sex: This can signify more advanced cervical cancer.
If a person experiences any of these symptoms, it's essential to see a doctor determine and treat the cause.
As cervical cancer progresses, it can cause several complications. These may include:
- Pain in the pelvis or abdomen
- Vaginal bleeding
- Discharge from the vagina
- urinary problems
- leg pain or swelling
- weight loss
In advanced stages, cervical cancer can be life-threatening. Complications of cervical cancer can also include the spread of cancer to other parts of the body, such as the lungs or liver. A person must see their doctor immediately if they are experiencing any of these complications.
How cervical cancer is diagnosed depends on the symptoms. If a person has symptoms of cervical cancer, their doctor will likely order one or more tests to confirm the diagnosis. These may include:
- Pap smear: A pap smear is a test that collects cells from the cervix. The cells are then examined under a microscope to look for changes that could indicate cancer.
- HPV test: A doctor can perform a test simultaneously as a pap smear. It involves collecting cells from the cervix and testing them for the presence of HPV.
- Colposcopy: A colposcopy is a procedure in which a doctor uses a magnifying device to examine the cervix closely. During a colposcopy, the doctor may also biopsy (remove a small tissue sample) the cervix.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the body and examined under a microscope. Several biopsies can diagnose cervical cancer, including endocervical curettage, cone biopsy, and hysterectomy.
After a cervical cancer diagnosis, a doctor will order additional tests to determine cancer's stage (extent). These may include:
- Chest x-ray: A chest x-ray can help check for cancer that has spread to the lungs.
- MRI: An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan uses magnetic waves to create detailed images of the body. A doctor can use it to check for cancer that has spread to nearby organs.
- CT scan: A CT (computed tomography) scan uses x-rays to create detailed images of the body. A doctor can use it to check for cancer that has spread to nearby organs.
- PET scan: A PET (positron emission tomography) scan is an imaging test that uses unique cameras and radioactive tracers to create body images. It can be used to check for cancer that has spread to other body parts.
After the cancer stage has been determined, the doctor will develop a treatment plan: surgical, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy treatment options for cervical cancer.
How cervical cancer is treated depends on each individual. Treatment usually includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. The type of treatment used depends on the stage of the tumor.
Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for cervical cancer. The type of surgery performed depends on the stage of cancer. In the early stages, surgery may be used to remove the cancerous tissue from the cervix, completed with a cone biopsy or a hysterectomy. Surgery may remove more extensive areas of cancerous tissue in more advanced stages. This can include a radical hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and surrounding tissues) or a pelvic exenteration (removal of the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum).
Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as x-rays or protons, to kill cancer cells. It is typically used in combination with surgery.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs are usually given intravenously (through a vein). Chemotherapy is typically used in combination with radiation therapy.
Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that targets specific molecules involved in the growth and spread of cancer cells. It is typically used with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer. Yet, every year, thousands of women are diagnosed with the disease. The good news is that there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
One of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer is to vaccinate against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Papilloma is a virus that can cause abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix, leading to cancer. There are two types of vaccines available: Gardasil and Cervarix. Both vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection and are recommended for girls and young women between the ages of 9 and 26.
In addition to getting vaccinated, a person can also reduce their risk of cervical cancer by having regular Pap tests. Pap tests can detect abnormal changes in the cervix cells, which may be early signs of cancer. It is recommended that all women between the ages of 21 and 65 have a Pap test every 3 to 5 years.
People can also reduce their risk of cervical cancer by using condoms during sex. Condoms can help protect against infection. In addition, if an individual is sexually active, they must get tested for HPV and other STDs regularly.
Finally, quitting smoking can also help reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Smoking increases the risk of developing abnormal changes in the cervix cells. If a person smokes, quitting is one of the best things they can do for their health. Following these simple tips can dramatically reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
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