Cervical cancer

What is cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer, also known as cancer of the cervix, originates on the surface of the cervix. It occurs when the cells of the cervix change, becoming precancerous. While not all precancerous cells progress to cancer, early detection and treatment of these abnormal cells are crucial in preventing cervical cancer.

What are the types of cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer primarily manifests in two main types: squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas. Squamous cell carcinomas account for approximately 80% to 90% of cervical cancers, whereas adenocarcinomas represent 10% to 20% of cases.

What are the causes of cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer initiates when healthy cells within the cervix undergo alterations in their DNA. DNA serves as the blueprint guiding cellular functions. These genetic changes prompt the cells to proliferate rapidly, defying the natural cycle of cell death.

    Consequently, an excessive number of cells accumulate, potentially forming a mass known as a tumour. These abnormal cells can infiltrate and damage surrounding healthy tissues. Over time, they may detach and metastasize to distant body regions.

    The majority of cervical cancers are attributed to Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a prevalent virus transmitted through sexual contact. While HPV often remains asymptomatic and resolves spontaneously in most individuals, in some cases, it triggers cellular changes predisposing to cancer development.

Risk factors of cervical cancer

    Factors that elevate the risk of cervical cancer include:

  • Smoking tobacco: Smoking heightens the risk of cervical cancer. HPV infections persist longer and are less likely to resolve in individuals who smoke. Since HPV is the primary cause of cervical cancer, smoking increases susceptibility.
  • Increased number of sexual partners: Having multiple sexual partners, along with your partner's history of multiple partners, amplifies the likelihood of HPV transmission.

    - Early sexual activity: The onset of sexual activity at a young age raises the risk of HPV acquisition.

  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs): Concurrent STIs, such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, and HIV/AIDS, heighten the risk of HPV infection, thereby augmenting the risk of cervical cancer.
  • Weakened immune system: Individuals with a compromised immune system due to certain health conditions are more prone to developing cervical cancer if infected with HPV.

    - Exposure to miscarriage prevention medication: Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbesterol (DES), administered in the 1950s to prevent miscarriages, is associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, particularly clear cell adenocarcinoma.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

    In its early stages, cervical cancer may not present noticeable symptoms. However, as the cancer progresses, signs and symptoms may manifest, including:

    1. Vaginal bleeding following sexual intercourse, between menstrual periods, or post-menopause.

    2. Menstrual bleeding is characterized by increased heaviness and duration compared to usual.

    3. Watery, blood-tinged vaginal discharge, often with a foul odour and increased volume.

    4. Pelvic discomfort or pain, including pain during sexual intercourse.

When to see a doctor

    Schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider promptly if you experience any concerning symptoms.

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