Cervical Cancer – Causes and How to Know if You Have it
What is the cervix?
The cervix is the group of tissues that connect the vagina and the uterus. The cervix produces cervical mucus that keeps changing in consistency during the menstrual cycle.
It dilates during childbirth to allow the baby to pass through and opens a small amount during menstruation to let the blood flow through.
What causes cervical cancer?
When the cells in the cervix turn abnormal and multiply, it can develop cervical cancer. Like all other types of cancer, It can be life-threatening if it goes undetected.
A virus called the human papillomavirus, or HPV for short, is the cause for almost all the cases of this cancer. Certain strains of the HPV causes the cervical cells to turn abnormal. Later, these same cells become cancerous.
HPV is transmitted sexually and the cause for 99% of all cancerous cells in the cervix. It is also one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Some people don’t show any symptoms but can still spread the disease to others, whereas others get warts in their genital areas or on other parts of their bodies.
Cervical cancer is very difficult to detect and most symptoms can be observed only when it is in its advanced stages. Moreover, some of the symptoms are similar to other problems such as yeast infection, UTI, etc.
Here is a list of symptoms to help you diagnose it:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pelvic, back or leg pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Nausea & vomiting
- Sudden & unexplained weight loss
1. Abnormal bleeding:
Bleeding in between two menstrual periods, during or after sexual intercourse, after a pelvic exam or after menopause could be an indication of cancerous cells in the cervix.
2. Heavy menstrual periods:
Menstrual periods that last for 2 weeks instead of the usual 4-5 days or getting periods twice in one month could be an indication for some serious problem. Even if it isn’t cervical cancer, it could be some other severe disorder. Hence, it’s best to get it checked.
3. Unusual vaginal discharge:
While discharge is completely normal, an unusual type of discharge could indicate problems. If you notice foul-smelling discharge that is red, pink or brown in colour, with chunks of tissue, then the best option is to get it checked.
4. Pelvic, back or leg pain:
Advanced cancer in the cervix could spread to other nearby organs such as the pelvis, legs, and even lungs or the liver. This will cause you pain in the respective areas for no apparent reason.
5. Chronic fatigue:
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer and it shares some symptoms with other cancers. All cancers cause chronic and severe fatigue in patients suffering from it. Hence, it is one of the major symptoms.
6. Nausea & vomiting:
Sometimes the cancerous cells cause the cervix to swell up into the abdominal cavity. This causes it to compress the gastrointestinal tract and the stomach, sometimes causing acid reflux. In turn, it will cause nausea and vomiting.
7. Sudden & unexplained weight loss:
With all the nausea and fatigue, it’s obvious that the patient won’t feel like eating much. If you notice a weight loss of 5-10% of your body weight over a period of a few months without even trying, you need to get it checked.
Doctors are able to diagnose the presence of cancerous or abnormal cells through Pap tests. For this, the doctor will swab the cervix to collect sample with a device similar to a cotton swab. The swab is then sent to the laboratory to check the presence of cancerous cells.
It is recommended to get Pap test for cervical cancer screening on a regular basis from the age of 21. Apart from this, women above the age of 30 are suggested to get tested for HPV on a regular basis too. The HPV test is pretty similar to the Pap test and checks for the presence of RNA or DNA of known HPV strands.
By reducing the risk for HPV, you can lessen the chances of you getting cervical cancer too. There are several methods to prevent this cancer and they are mentioned below.
If you’re between 9-26 years of age, you can get vaccinated for HPV.
Get routine Pap tests done.
Practice safe sex.
Don’t smoke since women who smoke are at a greater risk of getting cervical cancer.
Do you have any questions or suggestions? Feel free to contact us!