The cervix, a part of a woman’s reproductive system, is a passage that connects the uterus to the vagina. It is the lower, narrow part of the uterus, which allows the menstrual blood to flow out into the vagina during menstruation. During pregnancy the cervix is tightly closed to keep the foetus inside the uterus until birth.
Another important function of the cervix is during child birth, when the cervix dilates or widens to allow the passage of the foetus from the uterus to the vagina. Globally, the incidence of cervical cancer is 5 lakh new cases every year, and India accounts for 27% of those. In urban areas it forms 40% of all cancers and in rural 60%.
Cervical Cancer Causes: Although the exact causes of cervical cancer are not known, several risk factor are linked with diseases.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): HPV is a group of virus that can infect the cervix. Most women with cancer of the cervix are infected with HPV. These viruses are transmitted from person to person during unprotected sexual contact. Because HPV is spread primarily through sex, women who start having sex at a young age, or those who have multiple sexual partners, are more likely to have HPV.
Early sexual activity: The cells lining the cervix do not fully mature until the age of 18 and this increases the risk of HPV.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD): Women with cervical cancer generally have a history of STD infection. Diseases such as Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Syphills or HIV/ AIDS increase the risk of HPV.
Smoking: Cigarette smokers are more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Possible long–term use of Oral contraceptives: Using birth control pills for a long period (over five years) may increase the risk of cervical cancer among women with HPV infection. However, the risk decreases when women stop using the pill.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms: What do you need to watch out for?
Abnormal bleeding: Women with cervical cancer may experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can be heavy or light bleeding during the month.
Unusual heavy discharge: An increased vaginal discharge is also a symptom of cervical cancer. It may be foul smelling, watery, thick or contain mucus.
Pelvic pain: Pelvic pain that is not related to the normal menstrual cycle can be a cervical symptom. The pain can range from a dull ache to sharp throbs that can last hours.
Pain during urination: Bladder pain or pain during urination can be symptom of advanced cervical cancer.
Unexpected bleeding: Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse, or during a pelvic exam can be cervical cancer symptoms. This is due the irritation of the cervix during these activities.
Please remember that these symptoms are not sure signs of cervical cancer. But if you do have these symptoms, consult a doctor so that you can treat the problem at any early stage.
Cervical Cancer Treatment
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on tumor size and location, the stage of the disease, and the patient’s age and overall health. Cervical cancer, most often, can be treated with one or a combination of treatments; surgery, radiation, and / or chemotherapy.
*Inputs: Dr Shishir Shetty, Onco surgeon Fortis Hospital, Vashi
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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