Cervix refers to an opening between the vagina and the womb. A cancerous growth in this area is referred to as cervical cancer. It is the second most common cancer among Indian women and accounts for 22.86% of all cancer cases.
In most cases, chronic human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the causative factor for cancer. This infection may also cause vaginal or penile cancer.
Types of Cervical Cancer
Depending on the type of cell affected, cervical cancer is of the following types:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the most common type of cervical cancer which starts in the squamous or skin-like cells covering the cervix.
- Adenocarcinoma: This is a rare type which starts in the glandular cells or the mucous producing cells in the cervix.
Cervical cancer is slow-growing cancer. It may even take 15-20 years to show symptoms. The early symptoms are usually not apparent. The symptoms, however, flare up as the cancer cells begin to proliferate. The common symptoms include:
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse.
- Bleeding between normal periods.
- Vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odour.
- Pain during sex.
HPV infection is the common cause of cervical cancer in women. The infection is largely transmitted through sexual intercourse. The other causes are:
- Poor immunity.
Cervical cancer is diagnosed by:
- Physical examination: The doctor will perform a vaginal examination to check for the signs of cervical cancer.
- Colposcopy: This procedure will be performed to examine the cervix. In this procedure, the doctor will insert a tool called a speculum into the vagina to get a magnified image of the cervix. If cancerous lesions are found, a biopsy will be recommended.
- Biopsy: The doctor will retrieve a small tissue from the cervix and examine for the presence of cancerous cells.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI will be performed to gauge the size, location, and stage of the tumour.
The treatment strategy for cervical cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, age, and overall health of the patient. Surgery is usually the mainstay of cancer. This is combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Cancer surgery may cause damage to the eggs and alter hormone levels. This may result in loss of fertility. Before starting the treatment, the doctor will discuss plans with you. In case you are planning a baby, the doctor will make sure to preserve your fertility before starting the treatment.
- Surgery: Surgery will be performed to remove the tumour, cervix, cervix and uterus depending on the stage and severity of cancer.
- Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.
- Targeted therapy: Certain drugs will be administered to target specific protein particles in the cancerous cells. This therapy is considered in chances of relapse.