Cervical cancer

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the lowest part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Most cases of cervical cancer are as a result of an infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be passed on through sexual contact with a man or a woman.  There are more than 100 strains of HPV but two strains, HPV 16 and HPV 18 are the ones responsible in cases of cervical cancer. 

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

The symptoms of cervical cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Bleeding during or after sex
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • New bleeding after finishing menopause 

In the early stages, however, cervical cancer can be asymptomatic. 

What are the risk factors for cervical cancer?

Aside from HPV, the following are possible risk factors for women:

  • Smoking
  • Weakened immune system
  • Taking the oral contraceptive pill for longer than five years
  • Having more than five children

What happens during cervical cancer screening?

In the UK, the NHS Cervical Screening Programme invites women between the ages of 25 to 64 to attend a screening. Women between the age of 25 to 49 are invited every three years, whilst those aged 50 to 64 are offered a screening every five years.

During the screening, a small sample of cells is swabbed from the cervix and sent to a laboratory for the cells to be checked under a microscope. 

An abnormal test result does not always mean that a woman has cervical cancer. It may suggest that it is precancerous or because of the HPV present. 

How is cervical cancer treated?

Cervical can be treated with surgery if it is caught in the early stages, which is why regular cervical cancer screenings are important preventive measures. Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the womb, which is necessary in cases of cervical cancer.

Combined treatments involving chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy is another option for some women. 

These treatment options can lead to early menopause and infertility

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