What is Cervical Cancer?

Diagram showing female reproductive organ

Cervical cancer occurs when the cells in the cervix grow abnormally and invade other adjacent organs of the body. Cervix is the narrow part of the uterus, often referred to as the neck of the womb. It connects the uterus and the vagina.

How Common is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in India. 1 in 50 women are said to be affected by it. There are 123,000 cases of cervical cancer in India alone.

Also Watch: See what Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh has to say about cancers in India

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer?

There are various contributing factors to cervical cancer:

  • HPV (human papillomavirus): This is a sexually transmitted virus and there are more than 100 types of HPV. At least 13 of them cause cervical cancer.
  • Multiple sexual partners: HPV is always transmitted sexually and women having more than one sexual partner are at higher risk of cervical cancer. Girls who become sexually active before 16 or the same year when their menstrual periods start are also at higher risk than others.
  • Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Weak immune system: Women suffering from HIV or AIDS, or undergone a transplant and thus having a weakened immune system are at higher risk of cancer.
  • Early pregnancy: Women giving birth before the age of 17 are at higher risk as compared to women who give birth after 25.
  • Long-term mental stress: Women who resort to smoking, taking drugs, or drinking alcohol as forms of coping mechanisms against stress are at a higher risk.
  • Birth control pills: Women taking birth control pills for prolonged duration are at higher risk.
  • Other sexually transmitted diseases: Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.

What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

There are a few tell-tale symptoms of this disease:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding in post-menopausal women
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Smelly vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal discharge with hints of blood
  • Painful intercourse

Also Read: 9 Warning Signs of Cancer that Women Ignore

How is Cervical Cancer diagnosed?

There are three major ways in which cervical cancer is diagnosed:

Click on the image to understand all about Pap Smear Test
  • Screening: This includes a PAP smear test, which is an OPD, non-invasive procedure wherein a vaginal swab is taken for testing. All women above 35 years of age should get a PAP smear test done yearly irrespective of symptoms.
  • Biopsy: In a patient with any of the above symptoms, a biopsy of cervix is done under anesthesia. This gives a definitive diagnosis.
  • CT Scan: CT Scan is done to determine the staging of the disease. 

Also Watch: Dr. Lata Bhoir on All About Cervical Cancer

How is Cervical Cancer Treated?

There are various options of treatment for cervical cancer. Treatment depends on the stage of cancer.

  • Surgery: Surgery is done if the cancer is restricted to the cervix and or the uterus. This is an early stage procedure.
  • Radiation therapy: Also known as radiation therapy, involves high energy ionizing radiation to destroy existing cancer cells and reduce the risk of re-occurrence. It comes with certain complications that need to be dealt with in the earlier stages so as to prevent permanent complications such as fistula, etc.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is done when the cancer cells cannot be removed by surgery. This is done for people with advanced-stage cancer.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care is provided to patients with advanced stages of cancer, where the focus is to manage pain and better their quality of life. It addresses their appetite and sleep problems, along with any anxiety they may be feeling.

Usually, a combination of various treatment modalities is undertaken to get the best results.

Also Read: Here are 9 types of cancer treatments

What are the Complications of Cervical Cancer?

There are various complications related to cervical cancer:

  • Early menopause
  • Kidney failure
  • Blood clots during menstruation
  • Bleeding through vagina or rectum
  • Fistula- a connection formation between the vagina and rectum. The patient passes urine or stool through vagina.
  • Unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • Extremely pain during passage of urine
  • Incontinence which is loss of bladder control at times
  • Complications related to radiation therapy like proctitis or cystitis, i.e. inflammation of bladder or rectum

What Lifestyle Changes are Required to Treat Cervical Cancer?

  • Quit smoking
  • Wash your hands often and carry sanitizer to reduce your risk of infection
  • Good nutrition can fuel your body and help tissues heal faster. Eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and alcohol.
  • Exercise regularly to promote overall fitness and elevate your mood. It will also better your immune system. Check with your doctor before starting any exercise.
  • Manage fatigue as it’s a big side-effect of cancer and its treatment. Prioritize and break tasks into small chores.
  • Seek support from family and friends so that things don’t get too overwhelming.

How to Take Care of Someone with Cervical Cancer?

  • Help them as much as possible in their everyday chores
  • Take them for regular check-ups
  • Be there for them during chemotherapy sessions and don’t let them go through it alone
  • Ensure they eat a healthy diet and take rest
  • Be there for them when they want to vent out
  • Provide them comfort on whatever form they prefer and is possible

How is Palliative Care Given with Cervical Cancer?

Palliative care is provided to patients in advance stages of cancer, to better their quality of life. The focus is on helping the patient with issues like pain and loss of appetite. It also addresses anxiety the patient may be facing due to the disease.

Also Read: 7 Bollywood Celebrities and their Cancer Journeys

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