What Is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer arises from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus). It is caused due to abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body.
How Does Cervical Cancer Develop?
Cervical cancer can take many years to develop. Before it does, early changes take place in the cervix. The abnormal cells are the result of a virus infection, usually by the human papilloma virus (HPV).
What Are The Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer?
The common symptoms are:
- Abnormal bleeding from vagina, such as between periods or after intercourse
- Smelly vaginal discharge
- Bleeding from vagina in post-menopausal women
How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?
- Smear or PAP test: The smear test is designed to detect changes in the cells so that treatment can be given before cancer develops. The doctor will use an instrument called a speculum to hold the vaginal walls open. Using a small wooden spatula a sample of the cell is scraped gently from the cervix and spread onto a glass slide. The sample is examined under a microscope for any abnormalities. A smear test may sometimes be slightly uncomfortable, but it only takes a few minutes.
- HPU virus screening test: High risk viruses which cause cervical cancer can be detected using this test. It is similar to PAP test.
- Colposcopy: This is usually done at out-patient clinics. In the same way as the smear test the doctor will use a speculum to hold the vaginal walls open. A solution is then dabbed onto the cervix to make the abnormal areas show up more clearly and the doctor looks through a colposcope (like a small microscope).
- Biopsy: Removal of a small amount of tissue from the cervix for examination under a microscope. This can be done as an out-patient procedure.
What Is The Treatment For Cervical Cancer?
Surgery and radiotherapy may be used alone, or together to treat cervical cancer. Chemotherapy is also used for treatment. Your doctor will plan your treatment by taking into consideration a number of factors, including your age, general health, the type and size of the tumor, what it looks under the microscope and whether it has spread beyond the cervix. The treatment plan varies from person to person.
Your doctor will discuss with you the best type of surgery for you, which depends on the size and spread of the cancer. The operation for cervical cancer usually involves removal of the womb (hysterectomy), and sometimes a small part of the vagina and lymph nodes. The ovaries may also be removed.
Although you will no longer have your monthly period or be able to become pregnant, you will be able to resume your sexual activities after 6 weeks of the operation. After a hysterectomy, avoid strenuous physical activity or heavy lifting for about 3 months. Some women take longer time to recover.
Radiotherapy treats cancer by using high energy rays which destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to normal cells. Radiotherapy for cervical cancer can be given externally or internally and often as a combination of the two.
- External radiotherapy: This is given by directing high energy rays over the area of the cancer. It is usually given at a hospital out-patient clinic. The type and the length of your treatment will be decided by your Radiation Oncologist. Treatment planning is a very important part of radiotherapy which may include a CT scan of the area where the rays are to be directed. During the treatment, you will be left alone in the room but you will be able to talk to the radiographer, who will be watching you carefully from an adjoining room. Radiotherapy is not painful but you have to lie still for several minutes during treatment. The treatment is perfectly safe for you. During your course of treatment, the area treated should be kept as dry as possible to prevent the skin from becoming red and sore. If there are any issues, please discuss with your Radiation Oncologist.
- Internal (intracavity) radiotherapy: This is given by inserting certain applicator like a tampon, containing a radioactive substance into the cervix under an anesthetic. It is usually placed for half an hour to one hour and the patient is given a high dose of radiation to the cervix and the surrounding area. While the implant is in place, you will be asked to stay in bed to make sure that it stays in the correct position.
What Are The Side Effects Of The Treatment?Radiotherapy to the pelvic area can cause side effects such as feeling sick, tiredness, diarrhea and a burning sensation when passing urine. It is important that you drink plenty of fluids and maintain a healthy diet during your treatment. You must discuss with your Radiation Oncologist about any issues that arise during the course of treatment. Most of these side effects can be treated quite easily with tablets and will gradually disappear once your treatment is over.