Cervical Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Stages and Treatment
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer many women around the world suffer from. It is also a disease that is no stranger to women in the UAE. 58 people died in the UAE in 2018 with 108 newly reported cases in the same year. Cervical cancer is also the 2nd most common cancer for women in the UAE and is the 7th most deadly. Early intervention is crucial for treating cervical cancer, hence why all women need to have an awareness and understanding of the symptoms, causes, and treatments.
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Cervical cancer starts from a woman’s cervix. The cervix is a hollow cylinder that connects the lower parts or a woman’s uterus to her vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when its cancer cells start to spread on the surface of the cervix.
What makes cervical cancer an alarming concern for all women is that it often goes undetected until it reaches its later stages, becoming difficult to treat. The UAE government is making an effort to push awareness for cervical cancer and hospitals are well equipped for screening, diagnosing and treating cervical cancer.
When women first contract the disease, it often goes undetected as there are almost no symptoms that are recognisable. It is only until the later stages of cancer when the symptoms become more apparent. Although symptoms do become clearer in the later stages of cancer, they can often be mistaken for common health conditions such as fevers, menstrual periods and urinary tract infections. Symptoms include:
- Unfamiliar or strange vaginal discharge
- Pain in the pelvic region
- Random bleeding outside of menstrual period. Can happen after menopause or after intercourse
- The constant need to urinate
- Pain during urination
The best way to distinguish whether the causes of the symptoms are common health conditions or cervical cancer, speak with your doctor and get regular check-ups, so they can identify the issue and treat it sooner.
One of the most common causes of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted disease that also causes genital warts. Keep in mind that contracting HPV does not always result in cancer.
There are around 100 different strains of HPV, though only a few of them can cause cervical cancer. The most common cancer-causing types are HPV-16 and HPV-18. In addition, taking oral contraceptives can increase exposure to HPV.
Having HPV is the biggest risk factor for cervical cancer. The following factors may also increase the risks:
- A family history of cervical cancer
- A diet low in healthy nutrients
- Taking contraceptive pills
- Being pregnant while younger than the age of 18
- Having 3 full-term pregnancies
Cervical Cancer Stages
If your doctor officially diagnoses you with cervical cancer, they will assign you a cancer stage. Staging cancers into different segments can help with tracking your condition and giving you the appropriate treatments at the right time. The four stages of cancer are:
- Stage 1 – While the cancer is still small, it may be spreading to the lymph nodes and hasn’t spread to other parts of the body just yet.
- Stage 2 – cancer has become larger and may have spread outside of the uterus and cervix but has not reached other parts of your body just yet.
- Stage 3 – cancer has spread to the lower parts of the vagina or on the pelvis. It hasn’t spread to other parts of your body, although it is becoming closer.
- Stage 4 – At this stage, cancer may have spread outside of the pelvis area and onto your other organs such as lungs, bones, and liver.
If you can spot out cervical cancer in its very early stages, it is still very treatable and to significant effect. The four main treatments are:
- Surgery – The doctor will surgically remove cancer by removing parts of the cervix that contains the cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy – Using high-energy X-ray beams, the radiation may be able to kill the cancer cells. It can be delivered using a machine outside of the body, or a metal tube can be placed in the uterus or vagina to deliver the X-ray beams.
- Chemotherapy – Common for most types of cancer, chemotherapy is a drug that can help to kill the cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy – Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a relatively new drug that works differently to chemotherapy as it blocks out the growth of new blood vessels that may be helping cancer to grow. It can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent cervical cancer is to get screened regularly with a Pap smear test or hrHPV test. The screening will help to identify and single out precancerous cells before they turn into cancer.
If you fall under any of the risk factors, speak with your doctor and get regular tests. Also, avoid exposure to HPV with safe sex practices. Speak with your doctor for the best advice on minimising the risk of HPV.
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