What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when the cells on your cervix begin to grow in an abnormal way. If most often occurs in women between the ages of 30-45 but can occur at any age.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages of cervical cancer, you often don’t experience any symptoms.
The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding.
If you have gone through the menopause, any bleeding that occurs should be considered unusual.
In women who have not yet gone through the menopause, abnormal bleeding could be bleeding outside of your normal period or during or after sexual intercourse.
It’s also possible that you might experience a watery-bloody vaginal discharge, pain during sexual intercourse, or pelvic pain.
What causes cervical cancer?
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of viruses that are passed from person-to-person during sex.
Most women are exposed to HPV during their lives. The HPV causes the development of precancerous cells (CIN or CGIN) which then progress on to cancer. This process will often take many years.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Regular cervical screening, also known as a smear test, is the best way of identifying the pre-cancerous cells that could lead to the development of cervical cancer.
If there is anything abnormal on screening your consultant will likely recommend that you have further tests which may include:
- Colposcopy – a test to look closely at the cervix with a microscope. A biopsy may also be done during the colposcopy
- Pelvic exam
- CT scans
- PET scan
If you have not had a cervical screening, but have experienced any of the symptoms listed above, you should speak to your consultant.
How is cervical cancer treated?
The treatment that you receive for cervical cancer will depend on its stage or how far it has spread.
If the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it is possible that you will need to have surgery, and these surgeries include:
- Trachelectomy – the cervix and some of the surrounding area (tissue and the upper vagina) are removed, but the womb is kept
- Radical Hysterectomy – the cervix and womb (uterus) are removed., Depending on the type of cancer or your age the fallopian tubes an ovaries might be removed as well
- It is common to recommend removal of the pelvic lymph nodes at the same time as the surgery to check they are free of any spread of tumour cells.
Chemoradiation (a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy) is a good treatment of cervical cancer and is more appropriate than surgery in some cases. It is unusual to recommend surgery and chemoradiation in combination.
If you want further advice our team of expert specialists are here to help.