Cervical cancer (cancer of the cervix) is a malignant growth that develops in the tissues of the cervix, which is an organ in a woman’s reproductive tract located between the uterus and vagina. Although the malignancy can be due to other pathogenic factors, cervical cancer is often caused by a sexually transmitted virus called HPV (Human Papillomavirus).
Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of small DNA viruses that infect the skin and mucous membranes, especially the genital area. In people with strong immune systems, HPV does not cause health problems. In fragile individuals, they can cause the development of warts, papillomas or other diseases. Approximately 70% of HPV infections are transient which means your immune system prevents the proliferation of the viruses and disease associated with them. For some, infection with HPV, especially HPV16 and HPV18, persists and leads to cancer of the cervix (cervical cancer).
Cervical Cancer Incidence
Cervical cancer is one of the common cancers among women world wide, following breast cancer. Cervical cancer affects 400,000 to 500,000 women each year, and kills about 270,000. Cervical cancer represents 6% of all cancers in women. However, the incidence varies between developing countries and developed countries.
While cervical cancer is a very common cancer among women in developing countries, it is the eighth most common cancer among women in the United States. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), it is estimated that 11,270 women were diagnosed with cancer of the cervix uteri in 2009 with about 4,070 women dying of it.
On January 1, 2006 in the United States, there were approximately 248,166 women alive who had a history of cancer of the cervix uteri. This includes any person alive on January 1, 2006 who had been diagnosed with cancer of the cervix uteri at any point prior to January 1, 2006 and includes persons with active disease and those cured of their cancer.
Cervical Cancer Causes
The cervix, also called neck of the uterus, is a cylindrical-shaped organ that protrudes through the upper anterior vaginal wall. It separates the uterus from the vagina. The interior of the cervix is highly vascular. It has an internal cavity that contains a series of pockets called cervical crypts whose main function is to produce cervical fluid. The uterine cervix plays an important role in the reproductive functions of women. It is within the body of the uterus where the fetus develops after fertilization of an ovum by a spermatozoon.
The cervix is formed by a group of cells that divide and multiply harmoniously. Cervical cancer occurs when some of the normal cells mutate (damage) and divide uncontrollably. Without a curative intervention, these cells continue to grow into a mass or malignant tumor. These cancer cells can remain within the cervix or spread through the lymphatic system or bloodstream to reach other distant organs and form new tumors called metastases.
Cervical cancer may rise from the cells that line the cervix cavity or the epithelial cells of the opening of the cervix. Depending on the tissue (group of cells) affected or the characteristic of the tumor, a cervical cancer can be:
- Squamous Cell Carcinomaof the Cervix – This type of cervical cancer develops from a group of thin and flat cells that line the bottom of the cervix called squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of cancer of the cervix and represents 80-90% of cervical cancers.
- Adenocarcinoma– This type of cervical cancer develops within the canal that leads from the vagina to the uterine cavity, especially on the tissues that cover and protect the surface of the cervix uteri . Adenocarcinoma is responsible for 10-20% of cervical cancers.
Cervical Cancer Risk Factors
The causes of cervical cancer are not well known. However, certain factors are suspected in the development of the disease. Most common risk factors of cervical cancer include:
- HPV infection- Persistent HPV infections mainly groups HPV16 and HPV18 are the major contributors of occurrence of cervical cancer.
- many or frequent change of sexual partners
- exposure “in the uterus” to DES (diethylstilbestrol)
- early sexual intercourse, principally before age 18
- alteration of the membrane lining the cervix due to hormonal change or cigarette smoke
- age- The risk of developing cancer of the cervix is rare before twenty five years of age, but the risk increases from fifty one years.
- sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) – Some STDs such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV / AIDS can contribute to the development of cervical cancer.
- weakened immune system- Your immune system protects your body against infection and development of other pathologies. Having a weekend immune system facilitates the development of a variety diseases including cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
In the early stage of the disease, cervical cancer may produce no symptoms. The tumor develops over a period of 5-15 years. Meanwhile, the cancerous cells continue to multiply in your cervix. As the cancer worsens, you may experience:
- vaginal discharge
- vaginal bleeding
- vaginal mass (rare)
- moderate pain during sexual intercourse
If you have an advanced cervical cancer, you may also experience:
- pelvic pain
- back pain
- leg pain
- loss of appetite
- urine incontinence
- swollen leg (usually one)
- unreasonable weight loss
- pain during intercourse
- heavy vaginal bleeding after intercourse
Cervical Cancer Complications
Cancer of the cervix can be controlled or even cured completely if diagnosed early and treated appropriately. When poorly treated or detected at an advanced stage, cervical cancer can spread beyond its original site to invade the lymph nodes, giving rise to metastases in other organs distant from the pelvis. The metastases may be present in the abdomen, lungs or other organs. In this case, survival chance decreases considerably.
Complications of the Treatment
Treatments for invasive cervical cancer often lead to infertility. Therefore, if you have cervical cancer and are planning to have children in the future, talk to your doctor before starting the treatment.