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What is Cervical Cancer?
The cervix is a section of a woman’s reproductive organs that connects the lower uterus (the place where a baby grows) to the vagina (birth canal). It is actually part of the uterus. Cervical cancer usually starts in an area of the cervix called the transformation zone. This is a place where the two types of cells that cover the cervix meet.
Types of Cervical Cancer
There are two main types of cervical cancer. 80%-90% of cervical cancers develop in the squamous cells of the cervix and are referred to as squamous cell carcinoma. The remaining cervical cancers are called adenocarcinomas.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Most women with early cervical cancer or precancerous changes (dysplasia) may not have symptoms. Most symptoms do not occur until the cancer is advanced and growing into other tissues. These symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding (between periods, after menopause, during sex)
- Painful sex
- Unusual vaginal discharge
Cervical Cancer Causes
The most important risk factor for cervical cancer is history of human papilloma virus (HPV). Other cervical cancer risk factors include:
- Low immune system function
- A history of the sexually transmitted infection chlamydia
- Diet low in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables
- Using birth control pills for five years or longer
- More than 3 full term pregnancies
Cervical Cancer Treatment
Precancerous changes are treated differently than an actual cancer. If you have precancerous changes, your medical provider will monitor you frequently and may do procedures to burn away or remove precancerous cells.
If you have cancer, your provider will need to do some additional tests to find out how advanced your cancer is, and if it has spread into other parts of the cervix or surrounding tissues. This is called staging .
Cancers that are the most advanced (stage 4) are harder to treat than early cancers (stage 1).
Remember to talk with your medical team about all of your treatment options. Sometimes cervical cancer or its treatment can affect your ability to have children in the future. You may need to store eggs or explore other fertility options for the future.
When treatment begins, you may receive any combination of the following:
You may see a gynecologist, a gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist or medical oncologist plus other medical professionals during your care. They will work together to develop the best treatment for your case.
Cervical Cancer Survival Rates
According to the American Cancer Society, about 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed this year and just over 4,000 women will die from the disease.
The number of women dying from cervical cancer dropped by 70% between 1955 and 1992 after the Pap test (Pap smear) was implemented.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
One of the best screening tools available for cervical cancer is the Pap test (pap smear). The Pap test uses a small brush to gently collect a sampling of cells from the cervix for testing. The results of a Pap smear can show cancer or precancerous changes (dysplasia). If dysplasia is found, your doctor can run additional tests and then treat the cells before they have a chance to change.
The American Cancer Society recommends Pap smears on a regular schedule. Women who have a Pap smear every few years are more likely to find precancerous changes earlier than women who skip their Pap.
Cervical Cancer Support
Discovering you have cervical cancer can be scary. If you don’t understand the medical information you have been given or would like more clarification, make sure to say so. It’s okay to get a second opinion too.
Whenever possible, take along a trusted friend or family member to your medical appointments for support. Ask your doctor about support groups online or in your area where you can meet others battling cancer.
To request additional information on cervical cancer, call or contact us online.