Cancer — the word alone has the power to make people feel overwhelmed, scared, and helpless. The diagnosis comes with uncomfortable long treatments, pain, and the constant worry about what’s going to happen next. Will you be able to beat it? Is there anything you can do to improve the odds? Is there anything anyone can do to prevent it? As with any type of cancer, early detection is crucial. Learn how to prevent — or how to recognize symptoms to increase your chance of beating the illness.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the portion of your reproductive system that sits on the lower end of the uterus, connecting it to the vagina. Its opening is very narrow, and it allows both blood to flow from the uterus during menstruation as well as direct sperm into the uterus.
Cancer of the cervix occurs very gradually. Pre-cancerous cells may grow, yet clear out on their own. In other instances, it can turn into cervical cancer.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
The most common cause of cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) called human papillomavirus (HPV). It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, and it can be contracted through either vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
In its earliest stages, the illness has no symptoms. In fact, a woman may live with pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in her cervix and not know it. Once the disease starts progressing, common signs include:
- Bleeding between periods
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
If the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body, you may experience additional symptoms, such as:
- Swollen abdomen
- Lower back pain
- Blood in urine
- Blood in rectum after bowel movements
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Cervical cancer is diagnosed through a pap smear — which is part of your annual well woman’s exam with your OB-GYN. The gynecologist uses a cotton swab to take a sample of cells from your cervix for lab testing. Most people, once they leave their OB-GYN’s office, they never hear back from their visit. But once in a while, a woman will get a phone call letting her know of an abnormal pap. When this occurs, you’ll be asked to come in for further testing.
Sometimes, additional testing concludes that it was either a false alarm or that the pre-cancerous cells cleared up on their own. However, if cancer is confirmed, your OB-GYN will run a cystoscopy and a proctoscopy to find out whether the cells have spread to neighboring parts of the body — such as the bladder or colon.
If cancerous cells are present in the bladder or large intestine, your doctor will order even more testings to see whether the cancer is affecting additional organs. This is done to establish which stage the cancer is in and what would be the best form of treatment.
Cervical Cancer Prevention
The good news is that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. The best thing you can do to lower your risk of developing it is to schedule annual OB-GYN exams. This is because when a gynecologist performs a pap smear, they’ll be able to detect abnormal cells before they turn cancerous — giving you the chance to nip things in the bud.
In addition, people between the ages of nine and 45 can get vaccinated to protect them from HPV. While vaccinating children may seem too early, it provides protection years before they become sexually active. Do keep in mind that the injection is effective only if the person hasn’t contracted HPV yet.
Some risk factors also include:
If You’re Concerned About Cervical Cancer, Let Us Help You
At St. Hope, we serve many patients living with a myriad of medical conditions. We believe that treating people with compassion is as important as the medicine they receive. We foster a trusting patient/medical provider relationship to ensure that everyone who walks through our doors feels comfortable and receives the care they deserve.