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Cervical Cancer: What Every Woman Needs To Know

Cervical Cancer: What Every Woman Needs To Know

Every woman should know the facts about cervical cancer.

It is the 13th most common cancer in females in the UK, with thousands of women diagnosed every year. It can affect a woman of any age, but is usually found in women between the ages of 30-45. In extremely rare cases, women under the age of 25 can develop it.

Cervical cancer is cancer of the neck of the womb (the cervix), which connects a woman’s vagina and womb. It is considered highly preventable, and if caught early, treatment outlook is good.

Cervical Screening Awareness Week Stats

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Most cervical cancers stem from a commonplace sexually transmitted infection called HPV (Human Papillomavirus). HPV is the name for a group of over 100 different types of viruses.

HPV is transmitted through sexual intercourse and other genital skin to skin contact. Most women will get HPV at some point in their lifetime, but the virus usually goes away by itself without the need for any medical intervention.

However if HPV doesn’t clear on its own, there is a chance that abnormal cells can develop, which over time, could become cancerous.

What Are The Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

It’s tricky, because often cervical cancer symptoms are not obvious and can go under the radar of a woman’s day to day life. In fact, sometimes there are no symptoms at all until cervical cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. That’s why it’s essential that you attend all of your cervical screenings (also called ‘smear tests’).

Symptoms of cervical cancer may include unusual vaginal bleeding. This is usually the first noticeable sign of cervical cancer, and most often occurs after sexual intercourse. But generally bleeding at any other time than your period, and after the menopause, could also be a sign of a problem, and should not be ignored.

Other possible cervical cancer symptoms are discomfort and pain during intercourse and an odorous vaginal discourse.

What Are The Risk Factors For Cervical Cancer?

It is important to note that although HPV is very common, cervical cancer is fairly rare. This would tend to indicate that only a slim proportion of women are vulnerable to the progression from HPV to cervical cancer. Experts assert additional risk factors, which include:

Use Of The Contraceptive Pill For Over 5 Years

While it’s not really clear why, women who take the oral contraceptive pill are said to have double the risk of developing cervical cancer than those who do not.

Smoking

Smokers are twice as likely to suffer cervical cancer than non-smokers. This is quite possibly due to the action of toxic cigarette chemicals on the cells of the cervix.

Having Children

Yes, it’s very unfair, but the more children you have, the greater the risk of cervical cancer. Those with two children have double the risk of developing cervical cancer than those with no children.

How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

If your cervical screening shows abnormal cervical cells, then you will be referred to a gynaecologist. Most of the time, cell abnormalities don’t equal cervical cancer, but you will be referred because it is always better to be safe than sorry. You might also be referred if you are experiencing abnormal bleeding, or if your doctor has spotted a growth in your cervix during an examination.

The gynaecologist may perform an examination called a colposcopy, in order to identify any cervical abnormalities. This involves the use of a small microscope with a light at its end to get a clearer view of the cervix. In addition, your gynaecologist may collect a small sample of tissue (a biopsy), which will then be examined under microscope for cancerous cells.

Here at Private Pregnancy UK we can help you find some of the very finest Private Consultant Gynaecologists and Private Gynaecology Care Clinics in the UK.

Treatment

Cervical cancer treatment depends very much on how far advanced the cancer is and to what extent it has spread. If diagnosed early, the chances for complete cure are good, but this prospect decreases the further the cancer spreads, which is why it is so important to attend regular smear tests.

Removal Of Abnormal Cells

If your smear test indicates that while you don’t have cervical cancer, there are biological changes that indicate possible cancer in the future, there are a number of treatment options, such as:

Large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) – removal of the abnormal cells using a fine wire loop with an electrical current.
Cone biopsy – in surgery, the cone-shaped area of abnormal tissue is extracted.

Surgery

There are three main kinds of cervical cancer surgery:

Radical Trachelectomy – The uterus is left in place, but the cervix, surrounding tissue and upper portion of the vagina is removed. This procedure is only performed if the cancer is still very early stage.

Hysterectomy – This operation can be conducted for early stage cervical cancer. The cervix and the womb are extracted, often followed by a course of radiotherapy to help prevent a return of the cancer.

Radial Hysterectomy – Where the uterus, cervix, upper third of the vagina and pelvic lymph glands are removed.

Radiotherapy – Also considered a great surgery alternative, with a comparable cure rate. It offers the advantage of being spared an operation when the cancer is near to the colon or bladder.

Can Cervical Cancer Affect Pregnancy?

Yes. Sadly, after most cervical cancer treatment such as hysterectomy, or radiotherapy (that prevents the ovaries from working), it is not possible to fall pregnant.

dr-alex-eskander-gynaecologist-london-webinarDr Eskander, Consultant Gynaecologist and Director of The Gynae Centre, explains: “If the cervical cancer is at a very early stage, it may be possible to undergo a cone biopsy or LLETZ. Your doctor or consultant will consider any wish you have to become pregnant in the future, but you will only be offered the treatment if the cancer is early along enough for it to be removed totally. These treatments can present an increased risk of premature birth, depending on the amount of cervical tissue that is removed. But any risks will be thoroughly discussed before treatment.”

In these early stage cases, and should you want children in the future, another option may be a trachelectomy. After this procedure, the surgeon will stitch the opening of your upper cervix together, holding it closed and because of this, babies from any proceeding pregnancy must be delivered via caesarean section. “While babies have indeed been born safely after trachelectomy, it does carry the risk of premature birth or miscarriage,” explains Dr Eskander. “Despite this risk, and the fact that fertility after trachelectomy is not as good as after cone biopsy, it might be considered the wisest course of action. This is because radical trachelectomy is generally more effective at curing slightly larger cancers than cone biopsy is.”

That said, the choice for trachelectomy will only be provisional because your surgeon will have to see how far the cancer has spread. If cancer cells are discovered deeper into the cervix than anticipated, more tissue will have to be extracted. Then, it may be necessary to undergo a hysterectomy or combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

If your surgeon discovers your cancer is stage 1A2 or 1B, they will need to extract some of your lymph nodes to check that the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes surrounding the womb. If it has, your surgeon will likely prescribe radiotherapy to prevent the cancer returning. Unfortunately, radiotherapy creates infertility.

If You Are Diagnosed With Cervical Cancer During Pregnancy

If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer when you are pregnant, the next treatment steps will be based on: the type of cervical cancer it is, how far along it is, how far into your pregnancy you are and your personal wishes.

Most women diagnosed with cervical cancer while pregnant still have early stage cancer, and thus far, research has shown these cancers grow and spread no more quickly than in women who are not pregnant. Having said that, there are of course all sorts of extra factors for pregnant women to consider. Treatment considerations in these cases can be very complex, and you will have a multidisciplinary team to guide you and explain your options.

For a detailed breakdown of cervical cancer treatment for pregnant women, visit Cancer Research UK.

Lastly ladies, remember that the most important thing you can do to guard against cervical cancer is to attend your cervical screening. For more information on HPV and cervical screenings, see our useful breakdown.

Love yourself, look after yourself, and if you’re overdue on your smear test, book it today.

 

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