Cervical cancer is a significant health concern worldwide. It was once a leading cause of death among women but has thankfully seen a decline in recent years thanks to advancements in prevention and early detection. It is the fourth-most common cancer in women. However, it remains a significant public health concern, particularly in regions with limited access to healthcare. To empower individuals and raise awareness, this article delves into the core aspects of cervical cancer, exploring its causes, symptoms, and the crucial steps we can take to stay protected.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is caused by the abnormal growth of cells in a woman’s cervix, the entrance to the uterus from the vagina. These abnormal cells can invade or spread to other parts of the body, leading to serious health complications and, in severe cases, death.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
The primary cause of cervical cancer is long-term infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of more than 150 related viruses, some of which can lead to cancer. Other factors that can increase the risk of cervical cancer include smoking, having a weakened immune system, long-term use of oral contraceptives, and having multiple full-term pregnancies.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
In the early stages, cervical cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, symptoms may include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after sex, between periods, or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Vaginal discharge that may be watery, bloody, or have a foul odor.
- Pelvic pain.
Diagnosing Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer diagnosis usually begins with a routine Pap smear screening. If the results are abnormal, further tests are conducted. These may include:
- Colposcopy: A procedure where a health care provider uses a colposcope to examine the cervix for abnormal areas.
- Biopsy: A procedure in which a sample of tissue is removed from the cervix and examined under a microscope for signs of cancer.
- Endocervical curettage: A procedure to collect cells or tissue from the cervical canal using a curette.
- Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP): A procedure that uses a thin wire loop to remove tissue from the cervix.
- Cone biopsy: A surgical procedure that removes a larger, cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal.
Early detection of cervical cancer significantly improves the chances of successful treatment and survival. Therefore, regular screening is crucial.