What you need to know about cervical cancer
Cervical cancer affects the entrance to the womb. The cervix is the narrow part of the lower uterus, often referred to as the neck of the womb.
The American Cancer Society estimates that doctors will make 13,170 new diagnoses of cervical cancer by the end of 2019 in the United States. More than 4,200 women in the U.S. will die from cervical cancer this year.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes the majority of cervical cancer cases. The HPV vaccine successfully prevents HPV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially recommended the vaccine for all people aged 9–26 years. However, the CDC now advise that the vaccine is also available for all women and men aged 26–45 years who did receive the vaccine as a preteen.
In this article, we look at cervical cancer, its symptoms, and ways to prevent and treat it.
In the early stages of cervical cancer, a person may experience no symptoms at all.
As a result, women should have regular cervical smear tests, or Pap tests.
A Pap test is preventive. It aims not to detect cancer but to reveal any cell changes that indicate the possible development of cancer so that a person can take early action to treat it.
The most common symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- bleeding between periods
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- bleeding in post-menopausal women
- discomfort during sexual intercourse
- vaginal discharge with a strong odor
- vaginal discharge tinged with blood
- pelvic pain
These symptoms can have other causes, including infection. Anyone who experiences any of these symptoms should see a doctor.
Working out the stage of a cancer is important, as it helps a person decide the most effective type of treatment.
Staging aims to assess how far the cancer has spread and whether it has reached nearby structures or more distant organs.
A 4-stage system is the most common way to stage cervical cancer.
- Stage 0: Precancerous cells are present.
- Stage 1: Cancer cells have grown from the surface into deeper tissues of the cervix, and possibly into the uterus and to nearby lymph nodes
- Stage 2: The cancer has now moved beyond the cervix and uterus, but not as far as the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina. It may or may not affect nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 3: Cancer cells are present in the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis, and it may be blocking the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the bladder. It may or may not affect nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: The cancer affects the bladder or rectum and is growing out of the pelvis. It may or may not affect the lymph nodes. Later in stage 4, it will spread to distant organs, including the liver, bones, lungs, and lymph nodes.