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Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina, called the cervix.
The main risk factors for cervical cancer are:
Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and is one of the most relevant risk factor associated with cervical cancer. Usually our body prevents the virus from doing harm, but in some people it may survive for years. This results in changes to the cell which may develop cancer in the future. Factors which may increase your risk of contracting HPV include the number of sexual partners and age of initial sexual activity. You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection.
Smoking:There is a higher risk of developing a certain type of cervical cancer in people who smoke.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. More advanced cervical cancer may result in vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause. It may also present with pain during intercourse and/or watery, bloody vaginal discharge.
Routine Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions of the cervix. During a Pap test, your doctor obtains cells from your cervix, which are then examined under a microscope. Abnormal cells can be detected and treatment options are then advised by your doctor according to the findings. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.
In case your doctor suspects of cervical cancer, an examination of your cervix will be required. A special instrument (called a colposcope) is used to check for abnormal cells, when your doctor takes a sample of tissue for biopsy. This may be done through a punch biopsy, where a tool pinches off small tissue samples, or an endocervical curettage, which uses another instrument to scrape tissue samples.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, you will need further tests to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer, which is a key factor for your treatment. Staging exams include imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT, MRI and positron emission tomography (PET scan) to help your doctor determine whether your cancer has spread.
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, such as the stage of the cancer, other health problems you may have and your preferences. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three may be used. Early-stage cervical cancer is typically treated with surgery. A broad spectrum of different types of surgery may be performed depending on your cancer stage. This may include simpler procedures such as removing only the region of the cancer to removing the entire uterus and nearby structures.
Radiation therapy may also be used as treatment for cervical cancer. It uses high-powered energy beams to kill cancer cells. It may be used as the primary treatment option or as enhancement treatment after surgery. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy as the primary treatment for locally advanced cervical cancers.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Other treatment options include targeted drug therapy, which blocks weaknesses in the cancer cells, and immunotherapy, which helps your immune system fight the cancer. Some patients may also be directed to palliative care, which is specialized in providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness.