Information on Cervical Cancer

 By: Peter Hutch
Cervical cancer begins with abnormal changes in the cervical tissue. The risk of developing these abnormal changes has been associated with certain factors, including previous infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), early sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, cigarette smoking, and taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills).

Cervical cancer symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous. When this happens, the most common cervical cancer symptoms are related to abnormal vaginal bleeding occurrences. Bleeding may appear between regular menstrual cycles, and after sexual intercourse. Bleeding after douching or a pelvic exam are also symptoms of cervical cancer. In addition, pelvic pain, pain during sexual intercourse, bleeding after menopause, and increased or unusual vaginal discharge may also be cervical cancer symptoms.

The tissues of the cervix are very prone to undergo abnormal changes, and many women have tumours or neoplasms (new growths) in these areas of the reproductive system. Only a minority of these changes are actually cancerous. Some are benign, which means that they won't multiply and spread to other organs, and therefore aren't cancerous. Others are considered precancerous, and may require surgical treatment similar to that used to cure cancer itself. Many women who don't actually have cancer still need to be treated by an oncologist (a doctor who treats cancer).

Types

This is one of the few types of cancer where there are clear early stages which can be diagnosed and treated. The first stage is called CIN 1 and simply means that the cells on the cervix are slightly abnormal. This may have several causes and often clears up after a while. CIN 2 is not cancer, but the cells on the surface of the cervix show a number of cancer-like changes which can be seen under the microscope. The third stage, CIN 3, is close to cancer and is also known as 'carcinoma in situ'. If left untreated, CIN 3 has a 50% chance of developing into cancer.

Treatment

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, the size and shape of the tumor, the age and general health of the woman, and her desire to have children in the future.Early cervical cancer can be cured by removing or destroying the pre-cancerous or cancerous tissue. There are various surgical ways to do this without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix, so that a woman can still have children in the future.

Radiation may be used to treat cancer that has spread beyond the pelvis, or cancer that has returned. Radiation therapy is either external or internal. Internal radiation therapy uses a device filled with radioactive material, which is placed inside the woman's vagina next to the cervical cancer. The device is removed when she goes home. External radiation therapy beams radiation from a large machine onto the body where the cancer is located. It is similar to an x-ray.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer. Some of the drugs used for chemotherapy for cervical cancer include 5-FU, Cisplatin, Carboplatin, Ifosfamide, Paclitaxel, and Cyclophosphamide. Sometimes radiation and chemotherapy are used before or after surgery.
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