One of the worst feelings is receiving a call from your doctor saying that your pap smear came back abnormal and that you will have to be tested for cervical cancer. Many women often feel confused and scared, not knowing if this is something that can be fixed or something that can end up to be incurable.
Although many doctors can catch the pre-cancerous cells before they begin to spread, there are many times that it is too late and the woman may already have cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers among women. Women should get a pap smear or a cervical smear test performed regularly in order to prevent and detect any signs of the disease. Most of the abnormal Pap smear tests do not indicate that a woman has cervical cancer, however, if the doctor is able to monitor the abnormal cells then there is a strong chance that she will not develop the actual cancerous cells.
Cervical Cancer can be terminal, however, with new technology it can be treated with radiotherapy, surgery, and prevented with the new HPV vaccine. Close to 3200 women contract the cancer in the UK each year, 95% of the women being over 35 years of age. Deaths from the deadly disease have actually fallen by more than 40% over the last two decades and the cases are much lower than that of breast cancer.
Many women want to know what causes this disease and if there are ways to prevent it. The definite cause of cervical cancer is unknown, however, there are things that can increase the risk of contracting the disease.
1. Women who smoke. If you smoke than you are more likely to develop the cancer. As like lung cancer, cervical cancer is also high among smoking women. Women who don’t smoke are less likely to develop cervical cancer.
2. Human papilloma virus (HPV) this virus, that can also genital warts, is connected to 95% of all cervical cancer cases. This is a sexually transmitted disease that has will not cause any symptoms; and in 90% of cases the virus ends up going away without any treatment at all.
3. Sexual Behavior. Women who start having sexual intercourse at an early age carry the risk of contracting cervical cancer. Also if a woman has a large number of sexual partners than they carry the risk of exposing their cervix to HPV that can develop into cervical cancer.
4. The Birth Control Pill. Women feel that it is ok to have sex without a condom or other form of birth control when they are on the pill. As most women know, the birth control pill does not prevent any sexually transmitted diseases from occurring. Women who have sex without a condom are more likely to contract HPV.
5. Diet and unhealthy lifestyle. If you are not taking good care of your body by eating fruits and vegetables than you can carry the risk of developing cervical cancer. Smoking increases the risk also.
6. If you have a history of abnormal pap smears. Abnormal cells that have been found on the cervix can increase the risk of a woman developing cervical cancer.
It is important for women to know and understand the symptoms of cervical cancer. For one if abnormal cells called cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) are found on the end of the cervix during a pap smear this can be an early warning sign that you have pre-cancerous cells developing. These abnormal cells will not cause you any symptoms, however, it is very important that you and your doctor monitor them closely. However, if these cells do continue to develop into cervical caner than it will cause certain symptoms.
1. Vaginal bleeding, even after menopause.
2. Vaginal discharge with an odor.
3. Discomfort and irritation during sexual intercourse.
4. Abnormal bleeding from the vagina, during sexual intercourse or in between periods.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms you should consult your doctor right away. You may carry the risk of developing the cancer.
If your pap smear test does come back abnormal than you will be asked by your doctor to have a colposcopy. This is where a gynecologist will examine your cervix with a binocular microscope called a colposcope. The doctor will be able to tell if you have an abnormal growth on your cervix or not. If the doctor does find abnormalities, then they are very likely to take a biopsy of the cells by taking a sample of cells from the area.
The biopsy will show if the abnormal cells have begun to develop on or around the skin of the cervix. There are four stages that the cancerous cells can go through.
Stage 1: The cells are only present on the cervix. They have not begun to spread.
Stage 2: The cancer has begun to spread around the cervix and has reached surrounding tissues.
Stage 3: The cancer has spread to the tissue in the pelvic area, into the lower vaginal area or close by lymph nodes. These cells may begin to block the kidneys that will in turn cause them not to drain properly.
Stage 4: The cancer has begun to spread to other organs such as the bowel, bladder or even to lungs, liver or the bones. This is the worse stage and is harder to control.
Women who are diagnosed with the disease can undergo different options for treatment. The treatment will depend if the cancer has begun to spread or not and how life threatening the cancer is.
A radical hysterectomy is a common treatment of cervical cancer among women. This treatment can cause a loss of fertility afterwards. This is hard on women who want to have children, but will no longer be able to. Radiotherapy is another option for women who have the disease. This type of treatment focuses on destroying the tumor cells where the gynecologist cannot see. Chemotherapy is the use of medicines in order to destroy the cancer cells. Chemo can be used before a surgery or radiotherapy in order to shrink the tumor so that it will be easier to remove. This medicine is usually injected into the vein and can have strong side effects.
The newest form of prevention of cervical cancer is the HPV vaccine. This new experimental vaccine has protected women from contracting HPV, which is associated with the majority of cervical cancer patients.
There was a study conducted with the vaccine that involved 2,392 women ages 16-23 years. The participants were randomly assigned to get three shots of either an HPV-16 or a placebo, which is a dummy shot. The women did not know what they were being injected with and they were each monitored for 17 months.
Some of the women already had contracted HPV or other cervical abnormalities and some had developed infections prior to the shots. These women could not participate in the research and were ejected from the study. Out of the remaining women, 41 of them contracted the HPV-16 virus after having the placebo shot and nine of them began to develop pre-cancerous cells on their cervix. All of the women who received the three HPV-16 vaccine shots did not contract any abnormalities or pre-cancerous cells.
This is wonderful news for the millions of women across the world, however, the study is not totally complete and the vaccine does have certain limits. This vaccine has the ability to protect women against contracting the HPV-16 infection, however, it does not guarantee protection against other HPV infections that can cause cervical cancer. It is still unknown how long the vaccine can actually work and it does not prevent pre-cancerous cells that are already present before the shot, from spreading.
Laura A. Koutsky, Ph.D., of the University of Washington in Seattle will continue to follow and monitor all participants for up to four years in order to complete the study.
It is so important that we as women take great care of our body. Not only are cervical cancers affecting us, but also breast cancer. It is so important that we get regular check ups and monitor or bodies closely. If you feel any drastic changes in your body then you should consult your doctor soon.