Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Stages, Causes, Medicines & Treatments
Commonly asked questions about cervical cancer:
- What is cervical cancer?
- What are the types of cervical cancer?
- What are the risk factors of cervical cancer?
- What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
- What are the stages of cervical cancer?
- What is the survival rate of cervical cancer?
- How do you test cervical cancer/prevent cervical cancer?
- Is cervical cancer curable?
- How do you treat cervical cancer?
- How to Prevent Cancer
- What drugs are used to treat cervical cancer?
What is Cervical Cancer?
The cervix has two main cells that cover it, including squamous cells, which are located on the exocervix, and glandular cells, which are located on the endocervix. The two cell types meet in an area known as the transformation zone — the location of which changes based on age or whether you have given birth.
Most cervical cancers begin within the cells with pre-cancerous changes located in the transformation zone. Even though a woman may have cells with pre-cancerous changes, only some women with these changes will develop cancer.
It usually takes several years for cervical pre-cancer to change into cervical cancer, but it can happen in less than a year. For most women, pre-cancerous cells will go away without any treatment, however, there are cases where pre-cancer still turns into full invasive cancer.
Cervical Cancer Statistics
- Cervical Cancer accounts for 0.8 percent of all cancer cases among people in the US.
- Cervical cancer was the most common form of cancer-related death in women. However, within the last 40 years, medical advances have lowered the death rate by more than 50 percent, according to Cancer.org.
- Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than 50 and rarely occurs in women younger than 20.
What are the Types of Cervical Cancer?
There are two main types of cervical cancer: Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, each one is classified by what they look like under a microscope.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma begins with the thin flat cells that line the bottom of the cervix. This type of cervical cancer accounts for 80-90 percent of all cervical cancer cases.
- Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma develops in the glandular cells that line the upper portion of the cervix. These cancers make up 10-20 percent of all cervical cancer cases.
What are the Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer?
The main risk factors associated with cervical cancer are genetics, lifestyle and pregnancy, according to CancerCenter.com. There are also several smaller factors that can attribute to cervical cancer.
- Pregnancy: Women who have had three or four full-term pregnancies or who have had a full-term pregnancy before the age of 17 are 2-3 times more likely to develop cervical cancer.
- Smoking: A women who smokes doubles her chance of cervical cancer.
- Sexual history: Certain sexual behaviors are considered to increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. These include: sex before the age of 18, sex with multiple partners or having sex with someone who has had multiple partners. Studies have also shown a link between chlamydia infection and cervical cancer.
- Oral contraceptive use: Women who have taken oral contraceptives for more than five years have an increased risk of cervical cancer. However, this risk goes back to normal after the pills have been stopped for a few years.
- Other Conditions
- Weakened immune system: In most people with a healthy immune system, the HPV virus clears itself from the body within 12-18 months. However, people with HIV — or other health conditions that limit the bodies ability to fight off infections — are at a higher risk.
- HPV: Although HPV causes cancer, having HPV does not mean you will get cancer. Most women who contract HPV will clear the virus or will have the abnormal cells removed.
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
The American Cancer Society states that in the early stages of cervical cancer, many women show no physical symptoms. However, there are several common symptoms that may develop with time, such as vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge and pelvic pain.
- Vaginal bleeding: This includes bleeding in between periods, after intercourse or after menopausal bleeding.
- Unusual vaginal discharge: Commonly a watery pink and foul smelling discharge.
- Pelvic pain: Pain during intercourse — or at other times — may be a sign of changes to the cervix or less serious conditions.
Advanced stage symptoms of cervical cancer include, but are not limited to:
- Weight loss
- Back pain
- Leg pain or swelling
- Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina
- Bone fractures
What are the Stages of Cervical Cancer?
CancerCenter.com lists five different stages of cervical cancer. The TNM (Tumor, Node, Metastases) Classification System is used to determine which stage the cancer is at.
- TNM System:
- Tumor (T): Describes the size of the original tumor.
- Lymph Node (N): Indicates if the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
- Metastasis (M): Refers to whether or not the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- Stage 0: The cancer cells are confined to the surface of the cervix.
- Stage I: In Stage I, the cancer has grown into the cervix but has not grown out of the cervix yet. Stage I has been broken down into two sub categories:
- Stage IA: There is a very small amount of cancer that can only be seen under the assistance of a microscope. It is generally less than 5 mm deep and 7 mm wide.
- Stage IB: There is a small amount of cancer that can be visible or seen under the assistance of a microscope. It is generally more than 5 mm deep and 7 mm wide.
- Stage II: In Stage II, the cancer has grown out of the boundaries of the cervix and uterus, however, it has not reached the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina. The disease in this stage has also not spread to the lymph nodes or distant parts of the body. It has also been broken down into two sub-categories:
- Stage IIA: The cancer has not spread into the tissues next to the cervix, however, it may have spread into the upper part of the vagina.
- Stage IIB: The cancer has spread into the tissues next to the cervix.
- Stage III: In Stage III, the cancer has spread into the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis, but not to nearby lymph nodes. This stage of cervical cancer has also been broken down into two sub-categories:
- Stage IIIA: The cancer has spread to the lower third of the vagina, but not walls of the pelvis.
- Stage IIIB: The cancer has grown into the walls of the pelvis and/or has blocked both ureters, but has not spread to the lymph nodes or distant sites. Or the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the pelvis but not to the distant sites.
- Stage IV: In Stage IV, the cancer has spread to nearby organs or other parts of the body. Stage IV is also separated into two sub-categories:
- Stage IVA: The cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum, but has not spread into distant sites or lymph nodes.
- Stage IVB: The cancer has spread into distant organs past the pelvis, such as the lungs or liver.
What is the Survival Rate of Cervical Cancer?
The following survival statistics were published in 2010 in the seventh edition of the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual. Cervical cancer survival rates are based on the stage of the cancer at the time of diagnoses:
How Do You Test/Prevent Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women worldwide. However, it is far less common in the United States and other countries where cervical cancer screening is more routine. Doctors recommend women over the age of 21 receive routine Papanicolaou (Pap) tests and pelvic exams. Even though these tests are not 100 percent accurate, the tests and exams allow doctors to catch cervical cancer early on while it is still in its highly treatable stages.
Is Cervical Cancer Curable?
Yes, cervical cancer is curable.
How Do You Treat Cervical Cancer?
The National Cancer Institute states that there are four main kinds of standard treatment used to treat patients diagnosed with cervical cancer:
- Surgery: A number of different surgical procedures can be preformed by your doctor to remove the tumor.
- Radiation therapy: External radiation therapy involves shrinking the tumor using high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy utilizes a radioactive subsistence sealed inside of needles, wires or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given by pill or administered by needle into the vein or muscle.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy is a type of treatment that targets specific cells with specialized drugs or other substances that identify and attack specific cancer cells and leave normal cells unharmed.
How to Prevent Cancer
Cancer prevention can vary based on different research, and opinionated studies or news reports. However, these simple lifestyle changes can make a difference in the prevention of developing or forming cancer.
- Eat healthy
- Limit or stop your use of tobacco
- Have a balanced lifestyle
- Avoid risky behavior
- Visit your doctor
- Protect your skin from the sun
What Drugs are Used to Treat Cervical Cancer?
Some of the drugs that are used to treat cervical cancer and other types of cancer include:
- Bevacizmuab (Avastin): Bevacizmuab (Avastin) is used to interfere with the growth and spread of cancer cells by hindering the growth of blood cells.
- Blenoxane (Bleomycin): Blenoxane (Bleomycin) is used to slow and interfere with the growth of cancer cells in the body.
- Hycamtin (Topotecan Hydrochloride): Hycamtin (Topotecan Hydrochloride) is used to kill cancer cells when other treatments have failed.