Cervical cancer is not usually detectable in the early stages of the disease. Routine Pap screening is important to detect abnormal cells in the cervix, women are advised to get a Pap test starting at age 21.
The Pap test is a reliable and effective cancer screening method available, and women should have yearly exams. The HPV test screens women for the high-risk HPV strains that may lead to cervical cancer. It is approved for women over age 30.
Cervical cancer symptoms
Vaginal bleeding: It includes bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse or post-menopausal bleeding.
Vaginal discharge: A watery, pink or foul-smelling discharge is common.
Pelvic pain: Pain during intercourse or at other times may be a sign of abnormal changes to the cervix, or less serious conditions.
Signs of advanced stages of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer may spread (metastasize) within the pelvis, to the lymph nodes or elsewhere in the body. Signs of advanced cervical cancer include:
Leg pain or swelling
Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina
Cervical cancer risk factors
Pregnancy: Women who have had three or more full-term pregnancies, or who had their first full-term pregnancy before age 17, are twice as likely to get cervical cancer.
Family history: Women with a sister or mother who had cervical cancer are two to three times more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Sex before age 18, sex with multiple partners and sex with someone who has had multiple partners. Studies also show a link between chlamydia infection and cervical cancer.
Smoking: Woman who smokes doubles her risk of cervical cancer.
Oral contraceptive use: Women who take oral contraceptives for more than five years have an increased risk of cervical cancer, but this risk returns to normal within a few years after the pills are stopped.
Weakened immune system: In most people with healthy immune systems, the HPV virus clears itself from the body within 12-18 months.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES): Women whose mothers took DES, a drug given to some women to prevent miscarriage between 1940 and 1971, have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
HPV: Though HPV causes cancer, but the majority of women who contract HPV clear the virus or have treatment so the abnormal cells are removed. HPV is a skin infection, spread through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the virus. Only a small percentage of women with high-risk HPV develop cervical cancer.
TNM system for cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is staged using the TNM system:
Tumor (T) describes the size of the original tumor.
Lymph Node (N) indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
Metastasis (M) refers to whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body, usually the liver, bones or brain.
Once the T, N and M scores have been determined, an overall cervical cancer stage is assigned.
Cervical cancer treatment options
Surgery to remove the cancer. The type of surgerydepends on the location and extent of cervical cancer.
Radiation therapy , uses high-dose X-rays or implants in the vaginal cavity to kill cancer cells.
Chemoradiation, is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. This is often used to treat both early-stage and late-stage cervical cancer.
Chemotherapy , uses medicines to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used to treat advanced cervical cancer.