Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
The cervix is the opening between the vagina and the uterus.Cancer of the cervix is a malignant tumor on the cervix. Precancerous changesin the cells on the top layer of the cervix are an early sign that cervicalcancer may develop.
What is going on in the body?
Cervical cancer is fairly common cancer of the reproductive system that occursmost often among women aged 40 to 55.
Even though the cervix is located within a woman’svagina, its cells act very much like skin cells. These cells are exposed totoxins, viruses, and bacteria that may cause abnormal changes called cervical dysplasia.
Each stage of cervical dysplasia is judged by thethickness of the layer of abnormal cells. The earliest change that can be seenwith a microscope is called mild dysplasia. If not treated, these precancerouschanges may become moderate and then severe. The fourth, most severe, stage ofdysplasia is called carcinoma insitu. After this occurs, cancer cells may invade deeper layers ofthe cervix or spread to nearby sites. At that point, a woman has what is calledinvasive cervical cancer.
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
No one knows exactly what causes cancer of the cervix. Certain health problems,lifestyle choices, and other factors may increase a woman’s risk for developingit, including the following:
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
Cervical cancer that is found early usually causes no symptoms. Once the cancerinvades surrounding tissues, the woman may have vague symptoms such as the following:
Symptoms of more advanced cancer of the cervix include the following:
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the disease diagnosed?
Diagnosis of cancer of the cervix is done with a pelvic examination that includes a Pap smear. During a pelvic exam,the cervix, vagina, and vulva are checked for signs of changes. To do a Papsmear, a provider uses a small spatula and a brush to gently scrape cells fromthe cervix. These cells are sent to a lab for testing.
If abnormalities are found, the Pap smear may berepeated in 3 months. Alternately, the healthcare provider may do the following additionaltests:
Tissue that is removed for a cervical biopsy is examined under a microscopeand used to determine the stage of the cancer. Following are the stages of cervical cancer:
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the disease?
Many times, cancer of the cervix can be avoided by early detection andtreatment of cervicaldysplasia. Cervical dysplasia can be detected by a pelvic examination that includes aPap smear. Women shouldstart to have Pap smears and pelvic exams when they reach the age of 16 or assoon as they become sexually active.
A woman can lower her risk for getting cervical cancer by taking the following steps:
A woman should ask her sexual partners about their sexual histories,so that those who seem to be high-risk can be avoided.
Identification of early warning signs of cervical canceris also important. A woman should see her healthcare provider and may need tobe treated if she has any of the following signs or symptoms:
What are the long-term effects of the disease?
If abnormal cells are found early and treated, it may be possible to avoidremoving the uterus so that a woman can still have children. Unfortunately,once cervical cancer occurs, more aggressive measures may be needed. If thecancer is found and treated early, there is an excellent chance of cure. Ifleft untreated, it may spread to nearby areas or more distant sites in thebody.
What are the risks to others?
Cervical cancer is not contagious and does not pose a risk to others.Sexually transmitteddiseasesassociated with cervical cancer, such as Chlamydia trachomatis\. Sexually transmitted disease refers to any contagious disease transmitted from one person to another during sexual contact. chlamydia and human papilloma virus, are contagious.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the disease?
If cancer of the cervix is diagnosed early, the cancer may be removedsurgically. Options for surgical removal include the following:
Cancer is more likely to come back in a woman treated with cone biopsy.
If the cancer has invaded deeper layers of the cervix and has spread to theuterus, more extensive treatment may be involved, such as the following:
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Possible side effects and complications of hysterectomy are as follows:
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause a wide variety of side effects,including hair loss,fatigue, decreasedabilityto fight infections, and nausea.
Biologicalresponse modifiers such as interferon may cause flu-like symptoms,including body aches, nausea, and fatigue.
What happens after treatment for the disease?
The outcome for a woman with cervical cancer depends on many factors, such as the following:
After treatment, thechance that a woman will live for 5 more years depends on the stage of thecancer. Survival rates for the various stages are as follows:
How is the disease monitored?
After treatment, a woman will be closely followed for signs that the cancer ofthe cervix has come back.
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported tothe healthcare provider.
Article type: xmedgeneral