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Cervical Cancer

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Cervical Cancer 101 

Cervical cancer is a form of cancer that occurs in the cervix, which is a structure that connects the uterus to the vagina. While cervical cancer is less common and less deadly today than it once was in the United States and many other parts of the world, it remains a significant threat in some countries; according to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer globally. This article is a brief introduction to cervical cancer, with information about causes, symptoms, and treatment options.  

What Is Cervical Cancer? 

Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells form in the cervix, a cylinder-shaped structure connecting the vagina and uterus. Doctors use the term “pre-cancerous” to describe these abnormal cells. Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which can cause cells to become pre-cancerous. Pre-cancerous cells don’t necessarily become cancer and often simply disappear over time. However, in some women, pre-cancerous cells transition to cancer and form malignant tumors. Left untreated, cervical cancer can spread throughout the body and turn deadly.  

How Do You Know If You Might Have Cervical Cancer? 

As cervical cancer tumors begin to form, they usually don’t cause any symptoms, so the only way you would know you have the disease at this early stage is if you got tested. However, as a cervical cancer tumor grows and spreads to other organs, certain common signs and symptoms can occur. According to the American Cancer Society, these are some potential signs and symptoms of early-stage cervical cancer: 

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can include any unusual bleeding, such as after vaginal sex, spotting between menstrual periods, long or heavy periods, bleeding after douching, and bleeding after menopause. 
  • Unusual vaginal discharge, which may or may not contain blood  
  • Pain during sex 
  • Pain in the pelvic region 
  • Cervical cancer that has reached an advanced stage may cause these signs and symptoms: 
  • Leg swelling 
  • Problems urinating or having a bowel movement 
  • Blood in the urine 

Other medical conditions can cause these signs and symptoms, so don’t assume you have cervical cancer if you develop one or more. But if any of these signs and symptoms occur and persist, see a doctor soon.  

Where Does Cervical Cancer Usually Start? 

Cervical cancer usually starts in cells in the lining of the cervix. Specifically, the cancer commonly arises in an area called the transformation zone. This is the region where the opening to the cervix into the uterus meets with the outer part of this cylinder-shaped tissue. The majority of cervical cancers begin in squamous cells.  

What is The Cause of Cervical Cancer? 

The cause of many forms of cancers is unknown, but scientists have identified the culprit that that leads to most cases of cervical cancer, which is the human papilloma virus, more commonly called HPV. This virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world. Many people infected with HPV never know it, since this virus usually doesn’t produce symptoms, though it’s capable of causing genital warts. What’s more, HPV can infect squamous cells, which line the inner surfaces of the skin and other organs, including the cervix. HPV can also infect gland cells in the cervix.  

Squamous and gland cells in the cervix that become infected with HPV undergo changes that make them abnormal, a condition doctors call “pre-cancerous.” In many cases, these cells are killed off by the body’s immune system and never cause cancer. However, about 10 percent of women infected with HPV have persistent infections that increase the risk for cervical cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer fall into the category known as squamous cell carcinoma, since they arise from the squamous cells. A lesser portion begin in the gland cells and are called adenocarcinomas.  

What Are the Most Common Treatments for Cervical Cancer? 

Doctors consider several factors when recommending treatment for cervical cancer, including the stage of the disease, the patient’s age and overall health, and whether the patient hopes to have children in the future. Here are the most common treatments for cervical cancer. 

  • Radiation therapy: This common cancer treatment uses intensely focused beams of energy to kill cancer cells on your cervix. The most common form is called external beam radiation, which delivers treatment from outside the body. In some cases an additional form of radiation called brachytherapy, which uses “seeds” placed near the cancer, may be used.  
  • Chemotherapy: Another mainstay of cancer therapy, chemotherapy is the term for drugs that kill cancer cells. “Chemo” is often administered in combination with radiation therapy as initial treatment for cervical cancer. Chemotherapy may also be used to treat recurrent cervical cancer. The commonly used chemotherapy drugs for cervical cancer are injected into the veins in a clinic.  
  • Surgery: Patients with cervical cancer may be candidates for several different forms of surgery, which include:  
  • Cone biopsy: In which a surgeon removes a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix. 
  • Cryosurgery: Very cold gases are used to freeze and destroy cancer cells.  
  • Hysterectomy: In a simple hysterectomy, a surgeon removes the cervix and uterus. In a radical hysterectomy, the surgeon removes some additional surrounding tissues.  
  • Pelvic exenteration: Similar to a radical hysterectomy, but more tissues are removed, including the bladder, vagina, rectum and part of the colon. 
  • Trachelectomy: This procedure involves removing the cervix and upper portion of the vagina, but preserves the uterus.  
  • Targeted therapy: This cutting-edge treatment takes aim at proteins and other targets specific to cervical cancer, causing them to stop growing and spreading. There are several targeted therapies available for treating this malignancy. 
  • Immunotherapy: Another novel treatment approach, immunotherapy is a medical strategy that helps the patient’s own immune system become stronger and more effective at fighting cancer. A drug sometimes prescribed for cervical cancer, pembrolizumab (Keytruda), disables cancer cells’ unique skill for turning “off” the ability of certain immune cells to fight tumors. By keeping immune cells in the “on” position, they are able to destroy malignant cells.  

A Cervical Cancer Clinical Trial May Be an Option for You 

A clinical trial is another important treatment option to consider. Clinical trials evaluate experimental therapies cancer and other diseases. Massive Bio specializes in finding clinical trials for patients with cervical cancer. Patients who choose to enroll in clinical trials can receive cutting-edge treatment and high-quality care under the direction of doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals who are participating in research to discover new therapies for cancer. Patients can gain access to promising drugs and innovative treatments long before they’re made available to the public. If you’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, we’re here to help. If you aren’t sure what type or stage your cervical cancer is, that’s okay. Additional testing can help you determine your exact diagnosis. 

 

Sources: American Cancer Society, American Society of Clinical Oncology, Johns Hopkins Medicine