Learn Signs, Symptoms and Causes of Cervical Cancer, which is one of the most common forms of cancer that affect women worldwide.
Cervical cancer is the 3rd most common gynecologic cancer and the 8th most common cancer among women in the US. This cancer can occur as early as age 20.
Cervical cancer, a major contributor to mortality of the women, is a pathology that involves mutation of the normal cells in the cervix. Anatomically, the cervix is the portion of the female genital tract that is located between the vagina and the uterus. The mutated cells in the cervix then undergo uncontrolled growth and override the normal cells.
Cervical neoplasia is asymptomatic at early stages. The first symptom is usually irregular vaginal bleeding, which is most often postcoital but may occur spontaneously between menses. Cervical Cancer Diagnosis is by a screening cervical Papanicolaou test and biopsy. Cervical cancer Staging is clinical and Cervical cancer Treatment usually involves surgical resection for early-stage disease or radiation therapy plus chemotherapy for locally advanced disease. If Cervical cancer cancer has widely metastasized, chemotherapy is often used alone.
Cervical Cancer Types
There are two main forms of cervical cancer:
- Cervical Cancer: Adenocarcinoma
Adenomatous cells are gland cells that produce mucus. The cervix has these gland cells scattered along the inside of the passageway that runs from the cervix to the womb. Adenocarcinoma is a cancer of these gland cells. It is less common than squamous cell cancer, but has become more common in recent years. More than 1 in 10 cervical cancers are adenocarcinoma (10 to 15%).
- Cervical Cancer: Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cells are the flat, skin like cells that cover the outer surface of the cervix (the ectocervix). Around 7 to 8 out of 10 cervical cancers are squamous cell cancer (70 to 80%).
- Cervical Cancer: Lymphoma
Very rarely, other types of cancer that can occur in the cervix, is lymphoma, which is basically the cancer of the lymphatic system.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms, Signs and Causes
Cervical cancer results from cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), which appears to be caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) type 16, 18, 31, 33, 35, or 39.
Larger cancers are more likely to bleed spontaneously and may cause a foul-smelling vaginal discharge or pelvic pain. More widespread cancer may cause obstructive uropathy, back pain, and leg swelling due to venous or lymphatic obstruction; pelvic examination may detect an exophytic necrotic tumor in the cervix.
CIN is graded as 1 (mild cervical dysplasia), 2 (moderate dysplasia), or 3 (severe dysplasia and carcinoma in situ). CIN 3 is unlikely to regress spontaneously; if untreated, it may, over months or years, penetrate the basement membrane, becoming invasive carcinoma.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms & Signs
The early stages of cervical cancer are usually asymptomatic and that is why regular screening using smear test is very important because at this stage, the treatment outcome is good.
When the cancer becomes symptomatic, then that is usually a sign that the cancer has become invasive. Following are the Cervical Cancer Symptoms & Signs to look for:
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Bleeding
Bleeding is the most common sign that is experienced. Excessive bleeding during menstrual periods that may be longer or heavier than usual, bleeding in women who are past menopause, bleeding during or after vaginal intercourse and bleeding between periods.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Bloating
Bloating or an uncomfortable feeling in the abdomen is anther symptom that can be associated with ovarian or cervical cancer. Bloating can in fact occur due to a variety of reasons like indigestion, intake of food that produces gas, gastric problems, infections of the stomach etc. Sometimes excess intake of salt as well as calories too can lead to bloating. Therefore if you experience continuous bloating, it is important to get it checked to rule out ovarian or cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Dyspareunia
Dyspareunia is a common complaint in most women who suffer from cervical cancer. Dyspareunia is defined as painful experience during sexual intercourse. It is important to emphasize that dyspareunia is not a definite sign of cervical cancer but it may be an important indicator.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Discharge
An unusual smelly discharge is also a sign associated with cervical cancer. The discharge may be bloody and it may occur after menstruation or it may occur during menopause.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Pelvic Pain
Cervical cancer has been noted to cause pain located at the patient’s pelvis, according to the Mayo Clinic. The pain may also be experienced during sexual intercourse. The pain can be caused by the cancer causing damage and inflammation to the surrounding tissues, especially the vaginal walls.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Weight Loss
Weight loss is a symptom seen in the advanced stages of cervical cancer, according to “The New York Times” Health Guide series. The weight loss is usually accompanied by a loss of appetite. The weight loss can be caused by the exorbitant amount of energy the cancer needs to reproduce. Energy is drawn from the patient’s fat and muscle in order to power the cancer growth and spread.
- In some cases, there has been unexplained variations in the menstrual
- In advanced cases of cervical cancer, normocytic normochromic anemia is a common presentation due to the excessive bleeding.
Cervical Cancer Causes
Cervical Cancer Causes: Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
The most common cause that predisposes women to cervical cancer is infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV). It is important to understand that there are over one hundred documented strains of the human papilloma virus and not all of these strains cause cancer. The high risk human papilloma virus include 16, 18, 31 and 45. These four strains account for the majority of the cases of cervical cancer. Some of the strains that contribute to the causation of cervical cancer but to a lesser degree include Human papilloma virus 33, 35, 39, 42 and 45.
This viral infection is usually acquired through sexual contact with an infected individual. The highly carcinogenic human papilloma viral strains 16 and 18 usually interfere with the retinoblastoma and p53 genes which are responsible for keeping cell growth in check. The viral strains produce large proteins that inactivate these genes leading to uncontrolled growth of the cells, and this change predisposes the cell to even more gene mutations.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Immune Deficiency
Suppression of the immune system is another major contributory factor in the development of cervical cancer. The most common virus that is associated with immune suppression is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). This virus then leads to an Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. The immune system is critical in the identification and destruction of cancerous cells in the body and when this system is weakened, the mutated cells have a chance to multiply.
Other causes of immunosuppression include autoimmune diseases. These are conditions that arise when the body’s defense mechanism fails to recognize the self-antigens (the body’s tissues) and labels them as foreign thereby destroying the tissues in the body. Women who have undergone organ transplant are also at risk of developing cancer because they receive drugs that suppress the immune system. Cancer in these individuals usually develops rapidly and has grim outcomes.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Smoking
Smoking is another factor that predisposes women to cervical cancer. It is important to note that smoking not only affects the smokers but it also affects individuals that are around the smoker. The smoke contains highly carcinogenic compounds that may affect any organ in the body especially the lungs.
Smoking increases the risk of cancer twofold in smokers as opposed to the nonsmokers. The carcinogenic compounds damage the DNA components and these compounds also have immunosuppressive properties.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Sexual Behavior
Sexual behavior has an important role in development of cervical carcinoma. Early sexual debut is a major contributory factor. Women who experience sexual contact in their early teens are usually at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than their counterparts who had their sexual debut in their twenties. Having multiple sexual partners predisposes a woman to the Human papilloma virus which in turn increases the risk for cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Diethylstilbestrol
Diethylstilbestrol is an estrogen analog that has carcinogenic properties to the fetus. Daughters that were born to mothers who were exposed to the estrogen analog were at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Contraceptives
The prolonged use of oral contraceptives has been shown to increase the risk of acquiring cervical cancer. Use of contraceptives for a period of more than five years predisposes women. The longer the use of contraceptives, the higher the risk.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Parity
Increased parity is also implicated as one of the causative factors. Women with a high number of children are at increased risk of getting cervical cancer as opposed to women with a small number of children. It is postulated that pregnant women have weakened immune systems and therefore increased parity predisposes them to the Human Papilloma virus and carcinogenesis.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Occupation
Occupational hazards play a critical role in carcinogenesis. Exposure to carcinogens like tetrachloroethylene may lead to mutations that ultimately leads to cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Family
A familial history of cancer is another significant contributor. Women with a relative, especially a first degree relation, are at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer as opposed to their counterparts who do not have any relative suffering from cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Poverty
Poverty is another risk factor for cervical carcinoma. Women that come from low income household usually have inadequate access to health care and most of the time, these cases are often discovered late. Late diagnosis is often associated with very poor prognosis.