Cervical Cancer is the neoplasm of the cervix. The cervix is found in the lowermost part of the uterus. Its main function is to serve as passageway and produce mucus for intercourse. In pregnancy, the cervix serves as the passageway of the baby from the uterus to the vaginal opening. Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer for women in underdeveloped countries. Each year 500,000 cervical cancer cases are reported worldwide.
The process of normal growth in cells is disrupted when there is growth of cancer cells. The growth of normal cells speed up even when it is not necessary and normal cells that need to die do not die as they should. When these things happen, there will be growth of cancer tumors. Cancer cells in the cervix begin to grow on the surfaces of the cervical lining. If left untreated, cancer cells proliferate to other body parts and will eventually travel to the blood stream causing growth of cancer cells in distant organs.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is known to be an important factor for the development of cervical cancer. HPV alters the cells of the cervix that can lead to neoplasia and eventually cancer. There are 150 types of HPV. 15 types are known to be high risk types, 3 as probable high risk types and 12 as low risk. Distinct types 16 and 18 are known to be the highest risk type of HPV causing cancer. 70% of cervical cancer cases are caused by these two types. Having multiple sexual partners or having a partner with multiple sex partners are at a risk for acquiring the infection.
Other risk factors of cervical cancer include smoking, HIV infection, family history of cervical cancer, multiple pregnancies, hormonal contraception, chlamydia infection, stress, dietary factors, early age of first intercourse and pregnancy.
The early stages of cervical cancer are asymptomatic. Vaginal bleeding, vaginal mass, pain during sexual intercourse, and vaginal discharge are the main symptoms of this cancer. In advance stages, a woman can manifest symptoms such as weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite, pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, back pain, leaking of urine and feces from vagina, bone fractures, swollen leg, and leg pain.
Surgery may be performed depending on the severity and stage of the cervical cancer. Hysterectomy, hysterectomy with removal of lymph nodes, and trachelectomy may be performed to remove the cause of cancer. Radiation therapy is also a mode of treatment for cervical cancer. The radiations may be external or internal (brachytherapy). On the other hand, chemotherapy is also used for treatment. Chemotherapy may be used together with radiation therapy and surgery.
Vaccines against HPV are available for prevention of the disease. Different high risk types of HPV are the main target of vaccination. Although vaccination is 92 to 98% effective, this prevention is not enough because it does not cater to all the types of HPV. The use of condoms is recommended for protection against HPV also. On the other hand, adequate intake of Vitamin A, C, E, folic acid and carotenoids is recommended to stop the development of cancer cells.
Pap smear or the Papanicoulaou test is recommended starting three years or more after the first intercourse, or starting at the age of 21 to 25. This test allows detection of cervical changes. Early detection of changes can prevent the development of cancer because prompt management can be given to halt the progression of potential cancer cells.