A Few Things You Need To Know About Cervical Cancer

A minimum of 26 Nigerian women die daily as a result of cervical cancer, said a radiologist, Ifeoma Okoye, the Founder of Breast Without Spot, BWS Initiative, a non-governmental organisation. “We conducted a survey and discovered that cervical cancer is the second killer cancer among women and Nigeria is also the tenth in cervical cancer death worldwide,” she said.

Based on the this report, it has become more necessary than ever to bring you some information on cervical cancer culled from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, America.

The Cervix

The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It’s in the pelvis. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb).

The cervix is a passageway:

  • The cervix connects the uterus to the vagina. During a menstrual period, blood flows from the uterus through the cervix into the vagina. The vagina leads to the outside of the body.
  • The cervix makes mucus. During sex, mucus helps sperm move from the vagina through the cervix into the uterus.
  • During pregnancy, the cervix is tightly closed to help keep the baby inside the uterus. During childbirth, the cervix opens to allow the baby to pass through the vagina.

Cancer Cells

Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the cervix and other organs of the body.

Normal cervical cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When normal cells grow old or get damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.

Growths on the cervix can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer):

  • Benign growths (polyps, cysts, or genital warts):
    • are not harmful
    • don’t invade the tissues around them
  • Malignant growths (cervical cancer):
    • may sometimes be a threat to life
    • can invade nearby tissues and organs
    • can spread to other parts of the body

Cervical cancer begins in cells on the surface of the cervix. Over time, the cervical cancer can invade more deeply into the cervix and nearby tissues.

Cervical cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the cervical tumor. They can travel through lymph vessels to nearby lymph nodes. Also, cancer cells can spread through the blood vessels to the lungs, liver, or bones.

Risk Factors

When you get a diagnosis of cervical cancer, it’s natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. Doctors usually can’t explain why one woman develops cervical cancer and another doesn’t.

However, we do know that a woman with certain risk factors may be more likely than other women to develop cervical cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease.

Studies have found that infection with the virus called HPV is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. Most adults have been infected with HPV at some time in their lives, but most infections clear up on their own. An HPV infection that doesn’t go away can cause cervical cancer in some women. The NCI fact sheet HPV and Cancer has more information.

Other risk factors, such as smoking, can act to increase the risk of cervical cancer among women infected with HPV even more. The NCI booklet Understanding Cervical Changes describes other risk factors for cervical cancer.

A woman’s risk of cervical cancer can be reduced by getting regular cervical cancer screening tests. If abnormal cervical cell changes are found early, cancer can be prevented by removing or killing the changed cells before they become cancer cells.

Another way a woman can reduce her risk of cervical cancer is by getting an HPV vaccine before becoming sexually active (between the ages of 9 and 26). Even women who get an HPV vaccine need regular cervical cancer screening tests.

Symptoms

Early cervical cancers usually don’t cause symptoms. When the cancer grows larger, women may notice abnormal vaginal bleeding:

  • Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse, douching, or a pelvic exam
  • Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
  • Bleeding after going through menopause

Women may also notice…

  • Increased vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex

Cervical cancer, infections, or other health problems may cause these symptoms. A woman with any of these symptoms should tell her doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of cervical cancer, your doctor will try to find out what’s causing the problems. You may have the following tests:

  • Lab tests: The doctor or nurse scrapes a sample of cells from the cervix. For a Pap test, the lab checks the sample for cervical cancer cells or abnormal cells that could become cancer later if not treated. For an HPV test, the same sample is tested for HPV infection. HPV can cause cell changes and cervical cancer.
  • Cervical exam: The doctor uses a colposcope to look at the cervix. The colposcope combines a bright light with a magnifying lens to make tissue easier to see. This exam is usually done in the doctor’s office or clinic.
  • Tissue sample: The removal of tissue to look for cancer cells is a biopsy. Most women have cervical tissue removed in the doctor’s office, and usually only local anesthesia is needed.The doctor will remove tissue in one of the following ways:
    1. Punch biopsy: The doctor uses a sharp tool to pinch off small samples of cervical tissue.
    2. LEEP: The doctor uses an electric wire loop to slice off a thin, round piece of cervical tissue.
    3. Endocervical curettage: The doctor uses a curette (a small, spoon-shaped instrument) to scrape a small sample of tissue from the cervical canal. Some doctors may use a thin, soft brush instead of a curette.
    4. Cone biopsy: The doctor removes a cone-shaped sample of tissue. A cone biopsy lets the pathologist look at the tissue beneath the surface of the cervix to learn whether it has abnormal cells. The doctor may do this test in the hospital under general anesthesia.

    A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. In most cases, a biopsy is the only sure way to tell whether cancer is present.

    Removing tissue from the cervix may cause some bleeding or other discharge. The area usually heals quickly. Some women also feel some pain similar to menstrual cramps. Your doctor can suggest medicine that will help relieve any pain.

Culled from the National Cancer Institute

 

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