Cervical cancer happens when cells change in a woman’s cervix, which connects the uterus to the vagina. The cancer can affect the deeper tissues of the cervix and may spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), often the lungs, liver, bladder, vagina and rectum.
Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. When exposed to HPV, the body’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm.
In a small percentage of people, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancer cells.
Other possible causes of cervical cancer
- Oral contraceptives
- Multiple pregnancies
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors
The following factors can increase the risk of cervical cancer;
- Starting to have sex before age 16 or within a year of starting the period
- Having a weakened immune system
- Smoking cigarettes
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Taking birth control pills, especially longer than 5 years
Signs and Symptoms
The early stages of cervical cancer may be completely free of symptoms. Some signs and symptoms may occur later on:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Contact bleeding (commonly after sexual intercourse)
- Vaginal mass
- Moderate pain during sexual intercourse
- Vaginal discharge
Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Pelvic pain
- Back pain
- Swollen legs
- Leg pain
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Bone fractures
- Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina
Screening for Cervical Cancer
The cells lining the surface of the cervix undergo a series of changes. In rare cases, these precancerous cells can become cancerous. However, cell changes in the cervix can be detected at a very early stage and treatment can reduce the risk of cervical cancer from developing.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
Hysterectomy – the surgical procedure used to remove the womb.
Radiotherapy – is an alternative to surgery for some women with early-stage cervical cancer.
Chemotherapy – more advanced cases of cervical cancer are usually treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
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