Understanding Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a cancer of the cervix. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost all cervical cancer cases (99%) are linked to infection with high-risk human papillomaviruses (HPV), an extremely common virus transmitted through sexual contact.
Most infections with HPV resolve spontaneously and cause no symptoms. However, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer may not cause symptoms in its early stages. However, these most common signs and symptoms may appear as cancer progresses:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Bleeding after going through menopause
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
Regular checkups are so important as most people who have a high-risk type of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer have no symptoms until it’s already at a dangerous stage.
How do you get screened for cervical cancer?
You can undergo these two screening tests which can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early—
- The Pap test (or Pap smear)
Pap test looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately.
- The HPV test
The HPV test looks for the virus (human papillomavirus) that can cause these cell changes.
An instrument called a speculum is used during the Pap test to help the doctor examine the vagina and the cervix, and collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the area around it. Once the cells are collected, they will be sent to a laboratory. Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. If you are getting:
- A Pap test – The cells will be checked to see if they look normal.
- An HPV test – the cells will be tested for HPV.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Your doctor or nurse may suggest more tests or treatment if you have an abnormal Pap test or positive HPV test result. This testing can be:
- Another Pap test
- An HPV test
Colposcopy is a procedure conducted to help your doctor look more closely at your cervix to see if there are precancerous cells. A biopsy might be done during a colposcopy. During this procedure, a small piece of tissue from your cervix is removed and the tissue is sent to a lab for an examination of signs of cervical cancer.
What are the types of treatment available?
Depending on the kind of cervical cancer and how far it has spread, cervical cancer can be treated in several ways. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
- Surgery: Doctors remove cancer tissue in an operation.
- Chemotherapy: Using special medicines to shrink or kill cancer. The drugs can be pills you take or medicines given in your veins, or sometimes both.
- Radiation: Using high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to kill cancer.