In the early stages of Cervical Cancer, the disease shows little — to no — signs or symptoms. Regular pap screenings for women are essential to check for abnormal cells in the cervix. If abnormal cells are detected, they can be monitored and treated as quickly as possible. Pap screens are recommended for women starting at the age of 21.
Pap testing is one of the most reliable and effective screenings for cancer available. Women should have yearly exams by an OB-GYN. However, Pap tests may not always detect abnormal cells in the cervix. HPV at home tests screen women for high-risk HPV strains that can lead to cervical cancer. These tests are recommended for women over the age of 30. Read more about the difference between Pap testing and HPV screening here.
HPV tests can never be 100 percent accurate, but they do help patients and medical professionals detect the early stages of cervical cancer while it is still very treatable.
Early Signs & Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Catching cervical cancer early is easy if you know the signs. Common signs of a tumor in the cervix may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, bleeding in between periods, bleeding after intercourse, or postmenopausal bleeding. Other signs may include abnormal discharge, it may be watery, prink or foul-smelling and accompanied by pelvic pain.
Advanced Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer can spread, or metastasize, within the pelvis to the lymph nodes or form tumors all over the body. Signs of advanced cervical cancer include:
- Weight loss
- Back pain
- Leg pain/swelling
- Leaky urine/feces in the vagina
- Bone fractures
If you are exhibiting any of the symptoms it is important you speak to a medical professional immediately.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Staging of cancer helps to assess how far cancer has spread and what organs it may have reached. In these moments of labeling, its important to asses where you are and how your individual case may be treated. Most cancers are separated into four stages. Each with their own outlines and descriptions.
Precancerous cells are present in the body.
Cancer cells are no longer only on the surface, but have grown the into deeper tissues of the cervix, possibly moving into the uterus and lymph nodes nearby.
At stage 2, the cancer has moved beyond the uterus and the cervix, but not yet to the walls of the pelvis or lower vagina. It may not have reached the lymph nodes yet.
At this stage, cancer cells are in the lower part of the vagina/the walls of the pelvis. The cancer may be blocking the uterus and the tubes that carry urine for the bladder. It may not have reached the lymph nodes yet.
When stage 4 begins, the cancer has affected the bladder/rectum and is growing away from the pelvis. Towards the end of stage 4, cervical cancer will have spread to other organs, including the liver, lungs, bones and lymph nodes.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Cancer happens as the result of uncontrolled division and growth of abnormal cells. Most cells in the body have a ‘set lifespan’, so when they die the body creates new cells to replace them.
Abnormal cells do two things differently:
- They don’t die
- They will continue dividing
These problems result in a buildup of abnormal cells, which eventually form into a lump, that we call tumors. Although extreme amounts of research have been done, scientists are still not sure why cells become cancerous. It’s one of the great mysteries of modern science and one that has had scientists scratching their heads for decades.
- HPV. There are more than 100 different types of HPV and at least 13 have been identified to cause cervical cancer.
- Having multiple sexual partners/becoming sexually active early. Women who have multiple sexual partners are at a higher risk of contracting HPV.
- Smoking. Smoking increases the risk of all types of cancer.
- A weakened immune system. The risk of cervical cancer is higher in people who have been diagnosed with HIV, and also people who have undergone a transplant and are on immunosuppressive medications.
- Birth control pills. Long-term use of birth control pills can raise the risk of cervical cancer.
- STDs. STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can raise the risk of cervical cancer.
- Socio-economic status. Rates of cervical cancer are higher in areas where income is low.
There are many precautions you can take to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer:
- HPV vaccine
- Practicing safe sex
- Cervical screening
- Having a small number of sexual partners
- Not smoking or stopping smoking
Staying on top of your sexual health is important to living a long healthy life. Safe is sexy. Get tested today.