Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Prevention

Cervical cancer is a malignant tumor of the lowest part of the uterus called the cervix. It occurs in the cells of the cervix due to the out of control growth of abnormal cells.

It is common in women, especially in developing countries. In countries such as The United States, it is not common due to the routine cervical cancer screening.

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Image Source: cancereua.tk6

Risk factors for cervical cancer

1. HPV infection- Most common cause of cervical cancer is HPV infection. Women who are sexually active are at risk of developing it.

2. Poor immunity and HIV

3. Overweight

3. Multiple sex partners

4. Multiple pregnancies

5. Smoking- Tobacco byproduct damages the DNA of cervix cells and also decreases the effectiveness of the immune system to fight against HPV infection.

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Image Source: tonyisdead.com/

6. Oral contraceptives

7. Chlamydia infection- It is a sexually transmitted disease and research shows that women with the past or current infection of chlamydia are more at the risk to develop cervical cancer.

7. Poverty- It forces a woman to live in unhygienic conditions. Also. they are unable to access health services and screening pap smear test for HPV infections.

8. Diethylstilbestrol- It is given to women in order to prevent miscarriage, but it results in the development of clear cell adenocarcinoma of cervix and vagina.

9. Family history.

10. First pregnancy at less than 17 years of age.

Symptoms of cervical cancer:

1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding or intermenstrual bleeding- Menstrual periods are longer and heavier. Bleeding may occur after douching. Bleeding after menopause may also be a sign of cervical cancer.

2. Increased discharges from vagina– Usually foul smelling and thick.

3. Pain during and after sex usually in an advanced stage of cervical cancer.

4. Pain in the pelvis- Unusual and frequent Cramping and ache that lasts for a period of a long time. Mostly occurs in advanced stages.

Image Source: ladycarehealth.com

Image Source: ladycarehealth.com

5. Burning, tight sensation, and stinging pain while passing urine.

6. Frequent and incontinence urination. Blood may be present in urine.

7. Anemia, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, pain and swelling in the legs.

Image Source: vkool.com

Image Source: vkool.com

In most of the cases, cervical cancer does not cause any symptom in the early stages.  The pre-cancer condition develops into invasive cancer only in a few women and that too takes many years. Knowledge of symptoms, risk factors and preventive measures along with early pre-cancer treatment may protect women from developing cervical cancer. Pre-cancer may be treated with Cryosurgery, cauterization, and laser therapy.

Preventive measures:

  1. Routine pap smears test- This is done to rule out or treat pre-cancer before they turn into invasive cancer. The pap smear test should be done after the age of 21 years in every 3 years.
  2. If pap test shows minor abnormal cell changes doctor may recommend following colposcopy and a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
  3. X-ray CT-scan, MRI, PETscan may be done to detect the stage of cancer.
  4. Routine HPV DNA test – It is done to identify the high-risk form of HPV. Pap smear and HPV testing should be done combined, in women between 30 to 65 years in every 5 years.
  5. Avoid smoking
  6. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  7. HPV vaccination.
  8. Use condoms.

Treatment of cervical cancer:

It depends on  the stage of cancer. Methods of treatment include radiotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

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