Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman's cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). It mostly affects sexually active women between the ages of 30 and 45.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Cancer of the cervix rarely has symptoms in its early stages.
If you eventually do have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur during or after sex, in between periods, or new bleeding after you have been through the menopause.
Unusual bleeding does not mean you have cervical cancer, but you should see a doctor as soon as possible to get it checked out.
If your doctor thinks you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist within 2 weeks.
Screening for Cervical Cancer
The best way you can guard yourself from cervical cancer is by attending cervical screening (previously known as a "smear test") at 3 to 5 years interval.
During cervical screening, a little sample of cells is taken from the cervix and examined under a microscope for abnormalities.
In some areas, the screening sample is first examined for human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that can cause abnormal cells.
An abnormal cervical screening test result does not mean you certainly have cancer.
Most abnormal results are as a result of signs of HPV, the presence of treatable precancerous cells, or both, instead of cancer itself.
What causes cervical cancer?
About all cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. HPV is a very common virus that can be transmitted through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman.
There are more than hundred types of HPV, most of which are harmless. But some types can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually result to cervical cancer.
Two strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18, are known to be responsible for many cases of cervical cancer.
They do not have any symptoms, so women will not know they have it.
But these infections are very common and most women who have them do not develop cervical cancer eventually.
Using condoms during sex offers some protection against human papillomavirus (HPV), but it cannot always stop infection because the virus is also gotten through skin-to-skin contact of the wider genital region.
The HPV vaccine has been regularly offered to girls aged 12 and 13 since 2008.
Treating Cervical Cancer
If cervical cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it's very possible to treat it by surgery.
In some cases, it's possible to leave the womb in place, but it may be required to be removed.
The surgical process used to remove the womb is called a hysterectomy.
Radiotherapy is another means for some women with early-stage cervical cancer.
In some cases, it's used together with surgery or chemotherapy, or both.
More advanced cases of cervical cancer are generally treated using a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Some of the treatments can come with significant and long-lasting side effects, including early menopause and infertility.
Some women with cervical cancer may have complications.
These can arise as a clear result of the cancer or as a side effect of treatments options like radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.
Complications associated with cervical cancer varies from minor issues like bleeding from the vagina or having to pee often, to major issues like severe bleeding or kidney failure.
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