According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, with over 90% of death cases from the disease occurring in low- and middle- income countries. An interesting concern is that virtually everyone will be exposed to the virus that causes 90% of cervical cancer but the good part is that the cancer is preventable, as long as people have access to two things. Let’s find out.
What is the cervix?
The cervix is a part of the female reproductive system that is located at the bottom of the uterus (womb). It can be imagined as the gatekeeper of the womb. It helps to hold the baby inside the uterus in a pregnant woman.
What is cervical cancer?
It is a disease of the cervix characterized by abnormal and uncontrollable growth of its cells. Cervical cancer begins in the cervix and has the ability to spread to nearby organs like the vagina and uterus, as well as, distant organs such as the liver, lungs, and bone. When this happens, it is said to have metastasized.
Causes of cervical cancer
The primary cause of this cancer is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). There are certain strains of HPV which are considered oncogenic (can cause cancer) while non-oncogenic strains cause genital warts.
HPV infection is a sexually transmitted infection spread by vaginal, anal, oral, or digital sex. The body’s immune system is usually able to fight off this infection without symptoms. However, persistent infection with the oncogenic strains can cause cancerous growth to develop.
Who is at risk?
Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer.
Other risk factors include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Family history of cancer
Why is cervical cancer dangerous?
Cervical cancer is sneaky. The cervix is a part of the body that you cannot see or feel. Hence, cancerous growth can begin in the cervix at any time and one would not even know it. Unfortunately, majority of this cancer is asymptomatic. This complicates matters for women who do not have regular gynaecological checkup with their doctors.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
If a woman would present with symptoms, it would be one or more of the following:
- Bleeding from the vagina after sexual intercourse
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Sensation of pelvic fullness
- Increased vaginal discharge – foul-smelling or bloody
Treatment of cervical cancer
The stage of the disease determines the treatment option to choose. The stages include:
- Pre-cancerous stage
- Early stage cancer
- Advanced cancer
Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.
How can cervical cancer be prevented
HPV vaccines are close to 100% effective in preventing this cancer. Experts recommend that all children (male and female) get the HPV vaccine before they become sexually active. Although males do not have a cervix, they are potential carriers of HPV and are susceptible to penile cancer which can be caused by the same virus.
2. Regular screening tests
Women who are age 21 or older should get routine Pap smears and HPV tests.
A word from HealthFacts to you
Cancer of the cervix is preventable, yet still a leading cause of morbidity and mortality globally. HPV vaccination and regular screening tests offer the most effective means of preventing the disease.