Cervical cancer is a serious illness that affects women and, in some cases, it can cause death. However, of all the types of cancer that Women can contract, it is one of the most preventable. The introduction of regular cervical screening has meant that the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer in the UK has fallen over the last 25 years. But today, around 2,900 women are still diagnosed with the disease every year. If you’re unsure of what cervical cancer is and what the symptoms may be, read on for a basic guide to the illness.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are many different strains. Some strains of HPV may only cause verrucas or genital warts, while others increase the risk of cancer. HPV can be caught through sex, but many people who have contracted the virus through sex will never develop cervical cancer, as the body’s immune system will combat the infection. Major risk factors that have been linked with cervical cancer include having sex at an early age, smoking, a weak immune system (so your body can’t combat HPV), and having other sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia.
Women who develop cervical cancer may experience a range of symptoms, including unusual vaginal bleeding – i.e. between menstrual periods or after menopause – and an odorous vaginal discharge. Other indicators may include bleeding after sex, paid during intercourse and pain in the pelvic region. However, it’s important to remember that these symptoms aren’t definite indicators of cervical cancer and may be caused by another affliction or illness.
A woman showing symptoms of cervical cancer may be diagnosed using one of a variety of methods. One common test for cervical cancer is through a colposcopy. During this process, a colposcope (a lighted magnifying tool) is inserted into the cervix; a sample is taken and sent to a laboratory to be tested. Alternatively, a cone biopsy extracts a cone of tissue from the cervix for testing, while the patient is under general anaesthesia. Other methods for diagnosing cervical cancer include a loop diothermy, through which a heated loop wire is used to remove abnormal cells from the cervix, and an ultrasound scan, which can show how far the cancer has spread.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, your treatment may differ depending on how advanced the cancer is. Surgery is common for patients in the early stages; while more advanced cases may be prescribed radiotherapy. Chemotherapy may also be used as a treatment to combat cervical cancer.
Suggested steps to prevent cervical cancer include using a condom during sex, while the HPV vaccine is now being offered to girls aged 12 and 13 in the UK. Regular cervical smears are also recommended to help detect cervical cancer quickly. In England, this starts at age 25, while in Scotland it begins at age 21. The NHS recommends cervical screening every three years.