Cervical cancer starts in the cells lining the cervix -the lower part of the uterus (womb). The cervix connects the body of the uterus (the upper part where a fetus grows) to the vagina (birth canal). Cervical cancers start from cells with pre-cancerous changes (pre-cancers), only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will develop cancer. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment. But, in some women pre-cancers turn into true (invasive) cancers. Treating cervical pre-cancers can prevent almost all cervical cancers.
The goal of cervical cancer screening is to find pre-cancer or cancer early when it is more treatable and curable. Regular screening can prevent cervical cancers and save lives. Pre-cancerous changes can be detected by the Pap test and treated to prevent cancer from developing.
The best way to find cervical cancer early is to have regular screening tests. The tests for cervical cancer screening are the HPV test and the Pap test. These tests can be done alone or at the same time (called a co-test). Regular screening has been shown to prevent cervical cancers and save lives. The most important thing to remember is to get screened regularly, no matter which test you get.
Signs and Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Women with early cervical cancers and pre-cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms often do not begin until the cancer becomes larger and grows into nearby tissue. When this happens, the most common symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, or having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching may also occur.
- An unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex
- Pain in the pelvic region
Signs and symptoms seen with more advanced disease can include
- Swelling of the legs
- Problems urinating or having a bowel movement
- Blood in the urine
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: Infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most important risk factor for cervical cancer. Infection with HPV is common, and in most people the body can clear the infection by itself. Sometimes, however, the infection does not go away and becomes chronic. Chronic infection, especially when it is caused by certain high-risk HPV types, can eventually cause certain cancers, such as cervical cancer.
- Sexual history: Several factors related to your sexual history can increase the risk of cervical cancer. The risk is most likely affected by increasing the chances of exposure to HPV. Becoming sexually active at young age( less than 18 years old), having many sexual partners and having one partner who has HPV infection or have more than one sexual partners can increase your risk to getting cervical cancer.
- Having a week immune system: The HPV virus that causes AIDS weakens the immune system and puts people at higher risk for HPV infections. The immune system is important in destroying cancer cells and slowing their growth and spread. In women with HIV, a cervical pre-cancer might develop into an invasive cancer faster than it normally would.
- Chlamydia infection: Some studies have seen a higher risk of cervical cancer in women whose blood tests and cervical mucus showed evidence of past or current chlamydia infection. Certain studies show that the Chlamydia bacteria may help HPV grow and live on in the cervix which may increase the risk of cervical cancer.
- Long term use of oral contraceptive (birth control pills): There is evidence that taking oral contraceptives (OCs) for a long time increases the risk of cancer of the cervix.
- Having multiple full-term pregnancies: Women who have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies have an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. It is thought that the hormonal changes during pregnancy increases exposure to HPV infection and cancer growth.
- Economic status
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Having family history of cervical cancer: Cervical cancer may run in some families. If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing the disease are higher than if no one in the family had it. Some researchers suspect that some rare instances of this familial tendency are caused by an inherited condition that makes some women less able to fight off HPV infection than others.