Despite being the fourth leading cancer diagnosed in women, cervical cancer appears to be in the shadows of attention, especially when compared to breast cancer. Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix grows abnormally and invade other tissues and organs of the body. If long-standing, cervical cancer may affect deeper tissues of the cervix and even spread to other parts of the body, a process referred to as metastasis.
The risk of developing these abnormal changes in cervical tissue is most commonly associated with infection by human papillomavirus(HPV), especially the high risk types 16,18,31,33. Other milder types have been implicated in skin warts, genital warts which may also lead to cancer if not properly taken care of. The risk of acquiring HPV infection increases in situations of:
- Early sexual contact,
- Multiple sexual partners
- Use of oral contraceptives or birth control pills.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Cigarette smoking.
- Other STIs such as gonorrhea, syphilis, HIV/AIDs.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse between periods or after menopause.
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor.
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
If any of the symptoms listed above are noticed, then it is advised that one seeks medical care as soon as is possible.
A number of measures, ranging from vaccination with the HPV vaccine available for women of ages 9-26 to routine pap smear tests to detect early precancerous changes are available. Most medical practitioners advise that vaccines be given before the girl becomes sexually active, as it has proved to be most effective at this stage. Other measures include:
- Safe sexual practices such as using a condom and having fewer sexual partners
- Avoid smoking.
As with most cancers, early detection is key in the management of cervical cancer and this is why routine pap smear tests are required as this goes a long way in preventing complications. Cervical cancer also happens to be a slow growing cancer, and this undoubtedly proved useful to early detection.
By Joshua Faniyan