Doctor's Notes on Cervical Cancer
The cervix is a 4 cm long bottle-neck-like end of the uterus. Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the surface of cervix start to grow abnormally. Cervical cancer cells can also spread (metastasize) to other organs and tissues in the body, commonly the regional lymph nodes, lungs, liver, bladder, vagina, and/or rectum. Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common cause of cervical cancer. Other risk factors for cervical cancer include a family history of cervical cancer, early sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, smoking, HIV infection and a weakened immune system, being overweight/obese, and taking oral contraceptives (birth control pills).
There may be no symptoms of cervical cancer in the early stages. Once the cervical cancer has progressed, symptoms may include
What Is the Treatment for Cervical Cancer?
Treatments for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatments for cervical cancer may include one or more of the following:
- Radiation therapy
- External beam radiation
- Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy)
- Chemotherapy (“chemo”)
- For cervical cancer that has come back or spread to other areas:
- Chemoradiation, which is chemotherapy given along with radiation to help it work better
- Targeted therapy
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Cervical DysplasiaCervical dysplasia is the presence of precancerous changes in the cells of the lining of the cervix. Cervical dysplasia is classified by two terms, squamous intraepithelial lesion and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. The cause of cervical dysplasia is infection with the HPV virus (human papilloma virus). An HPV infection that does not resolve on it's own can lead to genital warts, cervical dysplasia, and cervical cancer. The treatment of cervical dysplasia depends on the severity (mild, moderate, or severe).
ChemotherapyChemotherapy or "chemo" is a treatment for cancer. Depending on the type of cancer an individual has, it can cure cancer, control cancer. or ease cancer symptoms. There are a variety of cancer drugs. There are a number of support groups to assist chemotherapy patients gain the help they need to move through this very trying treatment.
ColposcopyColposcopy is the direct magnified inspection of the surface of a woman's genital area, including the cervix, vagina, and vulva, using a light source and a binocular microscope, usually taken after an abnormal pap smear. A colposcopy is a relatively safe procedure. Major risks include bleeding, infection, and pelvic or abdominal pain.
Common Cancer SymptomsMost symptoms and signs of cancer may also be explained by harmless conditions, so it's important to limit one's risk factors and undergo appropriate cancer screening. Common cancer symptoms and signs are a change in bowel habits or urination, persistent cough, blood in the stool, urine, or saliva, lump in the breast or testicle, hoarseness, swollen glands, a change in a wart or mole, unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, and headaches.
Common Health TestsCommon health tests may be performed in your doctor's office or even in the pharmacy. Regular health checks and screening for certain diseases and conditions have become routine for most. Common health tests include a mammogram, cholesterol tests, and colonoscopy.
Genital Warts (HPV Infection)Genital warts (HPV) are growths in the genital area of both men and women. Genital warts are contagious and are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). Symptoms of genital warts may be none, to painless bumps, itching, and/or a discharge. There is no single effective cure for genital warts. Treatments and medication may decrease the size of the warts or temporarily remove them.
HysterectomyHysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus. Types of hysterectomies include: total abdominal hysterectomy, supracervical or subtotal hysterectomy, radical hysterectomy, vaginal hysterectomy, laparoscopic hysterectomy (LH) laparoscopy-assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH), and oophorectomy.
Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP)Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) is a procedure used to treat mild to moderate dysplasia of the cervix (cervical dysplasia, precancerous changes to the cervix). LEEP is also referred to as arge loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ). Typically dysplasia is diagnosed through colposcopy and/or biopsies. LEEP is performed in a doctor's office or outpatient surgery senter. Few women suffer complications from LEEP procedure.
Pap Smear TestA Pap smear test can detect certain viral infections that are known to cause cervical cancer. There are few risks during a Pap smear procedure. Types of abnormal Pap test results include atypical squamous cells; atypical grandular cells; endocervical adenocarcinoma in situ; low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion; high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion. Pap smear is recommended even for women in menopause or who are postmenopausal.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are among the most common infectious diseases in the United States. STDs can be spread through any type of sexual activity involving the sex organs, the anus or mouth, or through contact with blood during sexual activity. Examples of STDs include, chancroid, chlamydia, gonorrhea, granuloma inguinale, lymphogranuloma venereum, syphilis, genital herpes, genital warts, hepatitis B, trichomoniasis, pubic lice (crabs), and scabies.Treatment is generally with antibiotics; however, some STDs that go untreated can lead to death.
Vaginal Bleeding (Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding Between Periods)In women, abnormal vaginal bleeding when is when they are not on their period (menstruation). Symptoms of abnormal vaginal bleeding outside of your period include red blood on the underwear or pajamas, pelvic or abdominal pain, and excessive pain from menstruating, or if you are pregnant. Causes of abnormal vaginal bleeding include unbalanced hormones, during pregnancy, after trauma, uterine fibroids, menopause, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Treatment for abnormal bleeding depends on the cause of the bleeding. Talk to your doctor or another healthcare professional if you have any abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Vaginal DischargeVaginal discharge is a fluid or semisolid substance that is normal and helps keep the vagina clean. Normal vaginal discharge is clear or milky white and does not have an unpleasant odor. Bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including trichomonas, gonorrhea, or Chlamydia can cause a change in color or odor. Symptoms of infection may include yellow-green or gray discharge, strong odor, or irritation of the genitals. Treatment depends on the infection.
What Does an Abnormal Pap Smear Indicate?A pap smear is a cell biopsy of a woman’s cervix to test for cervical cancer. If the cells are found to be abnormal, doctors may want to remove tissue to prevent cancer, which works 95% of the time.
What Is the First Stage of Cervical Cancer?First stage cervical cancer is localized to the cervix and has not spread to nearby tissues or other organs. In stage 1A cervical cancer, the tumor is so small it can only be seen with a microscope or colposcope. In stage 1B cervical cancer, the tumor is larger, localized to the cervix, and can be seen without a microscope.
Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.