What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus just above the vagina. The slow, abnormal growth of cells in the cervix or neck of the womb is called cervical cancer. Usually, routine screening tests indicate such abnormal presence and growth of these cells and help prevent its escalation with timely treatment.
The early stages of cervical cancer do not show significant symptoms. However, some common symptoms found during screening tests include-
- Heavy periods
- Vaginal bleeding during intercourse, between menstrual cycles, or after menopause.
Types of cervical cancer
There are two major types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
1. Squamous cell carcinoma– involves the abnormal growth of squamous cells on the outer cervix or the top of the vagina.
2. Adenocarcinoma- involves abnormal growth of different types of cells found in the cervical canal (endocervix).
Apart from these, there are a few rare types of cervical cancer that include-
- Clear cell carcinoma
- Adenosquamous carcinoma
- Neuroendocrine carcinoma
Stages of cervical cancer
The stages of cervical cancer define the growth and spread of cancer to the adjoining parts or to other parts of the body. Majorly there are four stages of cervical cancer. Though only an expert can make the right diagnosis, the stages can roughly signify the damage caused as follows.
Stage 1A– The cancer is seen through colonoscopy. The size of cancer may be3-5mm deep.
Stage 1B– The size of the cancer remains between 5mm-4cm wide, but the cancer is confined to the cervix.=
Stage 2A– Cancer is wider than 4cm and spreads to the upper part of the vagina.
Stage 2B– Cancer deepening in the cervical tissues.
Stage 3A– Cancer has spread to the lower vagina.
Stage 3B– Cancer pressing the ureter tubes. If cancer presses the ureter, the urine may build up in the kidneys.
Stage 3C– Cancer has entered the lymph nodes, eventually pushing into the pelvic region.
It is considered the last stage of cervical cancer when cancer has spread out of the source.
Stage 4A- Cancer has spread to the bladder and bowels.
Stage 4B – It has spread to the uterus, lungs, liver, or bone.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer
As mentioned earlier, screening plays a vital role in diagnosing cervical cancer. Typically, women first consult a gynecologist who obtains cervical screening tests. On suspecting any unusual cancerous growth, they may refer a cancer specialist for treatment.
The specialist may also demand one of the below-given tests to deduce cancer.
- Blood tests
- X-ray or
- Cervical ultrasound
The cervical cancer treatment depends on –
- Stage of cancer
- The health of the patient (ability to bear a particular treatment module)
- Size of cancerous growth
- Your wish to preserve fertility for future parenthood
Partial cervical removal or complete removal of the uterus can be the best treatment option for patients with advancing cervical cancer or women who have passed the menopause stage.
The treatment for cervical cancer includes:
- Surgery– involves removal of the cervix or nearby region where it has spread.
- Chemotherapy– involves using cytotoxic or anti-cancer drugs to destroy cancer cells.
- Radiotherapy– It uses high radiation energy to kill cancer cells. The radiation is pulsed on the cancerous growth to kill targeted cells. Typically, it is used in conjugation with chemotherapy, also called chemoradiation therapy.
- Immunotherapy- It is the latest procedure for various cancer treatments, but still in the trial phase. The immunotherapy drugs activate the body’s immune system to protect itself from the spread of cancer naturally.
- Targeted therapy– It locates and attacks the cancer cells. It also kills suspected cancer cells in the adjoining region.
This cancer can be caused at any age in a woman. However, women of childbearing ages and post-menopause are more prone to developing such cancers. Hence, it is very important to consult your gynecologist periodically and undergo reproductive screening tests to ensure good health.
Consult Dr. Ramit Kamate, one of the best gynecologists and reproductive health specialists in Pune, to guide you in the correct diagnosis and treatment.