Cervical cancer is a disease that occurs when cancer cells form in the tissues of the cervix, a part of a woman's reproductive system. While no one knows the exact cause of this cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is the major risk factor for developing the disease. Symptoms may not appear in the early stages of this type of cancer; when symptoms are present, they caninclude vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain, among other things. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the cervix. In the last 50 years, there has been a decrease in the number of new cases and the number of deaths due to cervical cancer.
Understanding the CervixThe cervix is part of a woman's reproductive system. It is located in the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb). The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in the lower abdomen. The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina and the vagina leads to the outside of the body.
The cervical canal is a passageway. Blood flows from the uterus through the canal into the vagina during a woman'smenstrual period. The cervix also produces mucus, which helps sperm move from the vagina into the uterus. During pregnancy, the cervix is tightly closed to help keep the baby inside the uterus. During childbirth, the cervix dilates (opens) to allow the baby to pass through the vagina.
Cervical cancer usually develops slowly over time. Before cancer appears in the cervix, the cells of the cervix gothrough changes known as dysplasia, in which cells that are not normal begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Later, cancer cells start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and to surrounding areas.
No one knows the exact cause or causes of cervical cancer, and doctors cannot always explain why one woman will develop cervical cancer and another woman will not. However,doctors do know that a woman with certain risk factors may be more likely than others to develop cervical cancer. A cervical cancer risk factor is something that may increase a person's chance of developing the condition.
Specific risk factors for this condition include:
* Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
* Lack of regular Pap smears
* Weakened immune system
* Cigarette use
* Long-term use of birth control pills
* Having many children
* Diethylstilbestrol (DES).
People who think that they may be at risk of cervical cancer should discuss this concern with their doctor.
Screening for Cervical Cancer
Screening is very important because it can help doctors find abnormal cells before cancer develops. Finding and treatingabnormal cells can prevent most cervical cancer. The number of women who are diagnosed each year has been decreasing for the past several decades. Doctors believe that this decrease is directly related to the success of cervical cancer screening. In order for women to reduce their risk of cervical cancer, doctors recommend that women have regular Pap tests. A Pap test, also known as a Pap smear orcervical smear, is a simple test that is used to look at the cervical cells.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms may not appear in the earlystages of cervical cancer. Therefore, women should have yearly checkups, including a Pap smear, to check for abnormal cells in the cervix.
When cervical cancer worsens, women may experience symptoms, which include:
* Vaginal bleeding
* Unusual vaginaldischarge
* Pelvic pain
* Pain during sexual intercourse.
Although these symptoms may be caused by cervical cancer, there are other conditions that may cause these same symptoms. Therefore, you should consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.
Making a Diagnosis
In order to diagnose a patient, a healthcare provider will:
* Look to see if the patient has possible...