Cervical Cancer Definition
Cervical cancer starts when cells lining the cervix begin to grow out of control. Sometimes these cells spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. To better grasp exactly how cervical cancer affects the body, it’s important to understand the biology of the cervix.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus, also called the womb. A fetus grows in the upper part of the uterus, but the cervix is the part of the womb that connects the uterus to the vagina. The cervix itself is comprised of two parts – the endocervix and the exocervix.
The endocervix is the part closest to the body, and it’s covered with glandular cells. The exocervix is located next to the vagina and is covered in squamous cells. The place where these two types of cells meet is called the transformation zone, and it’s exact location changes as the body ages. The transformation zone is where most cervical cancers get their start.
This process from healthy cells to cancerous cells is gradual, and there is a stage in between where the cells become pre-cancerous. Pre-cancerous conditions are called squamous intraepithelial lesions, dysplasia, and cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. A pap test can be conducted that detects these pre-cancerous conditions to that they can be treated, thus preventing cancer from forming.
After looking at pre-cancerous or cancerous cells under a microscope, doctors will classify them in one of the following ways:
• Squamous cell carcinoma – This type of cervical cancer develops in the exocervix, most likely in the transformation zone.
• Adenocarcinoma – These cervical cancers develop from gland cells in the mucous-producing gland cells that make up the endocervix.
• Adenosquamous carcinoma – Also called mixed carcinomas, these less common cancers show a mix of features identified above.
It’s also possible to develop other forms of cancer in the cervix, including sarcoma, melanoma, and lymphoma, but they are more likely to develop in other parts of the body. There are also some rare types of cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer Stages
Doctors often use the TNM System to determine a patient’s cervical cancer stages. Information from tests is categorized into three key areas: Tumor, Node, and Metastasis. These are broken down as follows:
• T – This refers to the size, or “extent” of the cancer. In other words, how far has the cervical cancer grown in the tissues that make up the cervix? Most cervical cancers start in the transition zone, but they can form anywhere in the cervix.
• N – This refers to nearby lymph nodes. If more lymph nodes have been invaded by cervical cancer cells, the staging will be higher.
• M – This refers to Metastasis. If the cancer has spread to distant sites within the body, including organs and far away lymph nodes, the staging level will increase.
When determining cervical cancer stage grouping, numerals will follow the letter designations, and each helps to define the nature of that particular cancer. Cancer staging is a complex process, but your doctor will help you understand the many variable that help to determine your cervical cancer stage.
Once the information is compiled, a doctor will stage the cervical cancer in an attempt to ascertain the best treatment and offer the patient a prognosis.
Stage I cervical cancers are confined to the cervix.
Stage II cervical cancers extend beyond the cervix, but not the pelvic wall. The cancer may also affect the vagina but not the lower third of that structure.
Stage II cervical cancer extends into the pelvic sidewall, and the tumor extends the lower third section of the vagina.
Stage IV cervical cancer extends beyond the pelvis and has entered the bladder or rectum’s mucosa. Stage IVB cervical cancer has spread to distant areas in the body, like other organs.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms (signs of Cervical cancer)
There are usually no symptoms associated with cervical cancer or pre-cancers, which means that it’s often not possible to detect cervical cancer until it’s in a more advanced stage. Symptoms of cervical cancer that’s spread into nearby tissue includes:
• Abnormal vaginal bleeding, which may include bleeding after sexual intercourse, bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, or periods that are stronger than usual.
• Unusual vaginal discharge, which may contain a certain amount of blood, or occurs at odd times like between periods or after menopause.
• Pain during sexual intercourse
These symptoms are more often caused by some condition other than cervical cancer, but they all warrant an immediate doctor visit. Screening tests are available for cervical cancer. If you would like more information about cervical cancer screening see the appropriate section below.
Cervical Cancer Statistics
Cervical pre-cancers are diagnosed far more often than cervical cancer, but it is estimated that there will be about 13,000 new cases of invasive cervical cancer diagnosed in 2018. Of these, about 1,400 will die because of the disease, which is about 31%.
It wasn’t that long ago that cervical cancer was one of the most common causes of death for women in the United States, but increased use of the Pap test made it possible to screen for pre-cancer. Cervical cancer is diagnosed most often in women between the age of 35 and 44.
Hispanic women are more likely to develop cervical cancer than other ethnic backgrounds. African American women are more likely to develop cervical cancer than white women.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Unlike many other cancers, there is a deeper understanding of what happens in cervical cells when cancer develops. There are also several risk factors that have been identified which increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease.
Cells in the cervix are comprised of genes that tell them how to act. Oncogenes tell cells when to grow, divide, and remain alive. Tumor suppressor genes tell cells when to die and keep them from growing uncontrollably. Cancers are often caused by gene mutations that make these cells do the opposite of they’re supposed to do.
Human papillomaviruses, also called HPV produce proteins that are capable of turning off certain tumor suppressor genes. This may eventually lead to cancer in some women. However, most women with HPV never develop cancer, and it’s also not the only cause of the disease. Risk factors like smoking tobacco and HIV infection may increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer. For more information about risk factors, see below.
Cervical Cancer Screening and Prevention
Screening is the process of conducting routine tests to detect pre-cancerous cervical cancer, or cervical cancer in its earliest stages. This offers the best chance at successful treatment.
Pap testing is recommended as a screening method for pre-cancers and cancer of the cervix. It’s also wise to be alert to any signs or symptoms associated with cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that women do take the following actions to find cervical cancer in its earliest stages, or while it’s still pre-cancerous:
• Begin screening at the age of 21. Between the age of 21 and 29, get a Pap test every 3 years.
• After reaching 30 years of age, screen with a Pap test and HPV test every 5 years and continue this regimen to the age of 65.
• Woman at high risk of developing cervical cancer should increase the frequency of their screenings.
• Women over 65 years of age who have had routine screenings since they were 55 should stop screenings if they haven’t had serious pre-cancers. If they have, they should continue screening for 20 years after developing the pre-cancer.
• Women who have had a total hysterectomy should stop screening unless the surgery was done because of pre-cancer.
• No women should be screened every year by any screening method.
• Women vaccinated for HPV should still follow all of these guidelines.
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to maintain the recommended screening regimen and avoid behaviors that increase risk. To avoid developing HPV, it’s important to avoid skin-to-skin contact with anyone who has the disease. Sexual intercourse, oral sex, and anal sex are all means of transmitting HPV, but it’s also possible to spread the virus without sexual contact of any sort.
HPV is very common and it may be difficult to avoid contracting the virus. However, avoiding sex with people who have had numerous sexual partners may lower the risk of developing the disease. There are vaccines that prevent some HPV infections that are linked to cancer, so it may be a good idea to explore this option at a young age.
Other ways to prevent cervical cancer include:
• Use condoms during sexual intercourse
• Don’t smoke tobacco
Cervical Cancer Treatments
Treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Multiple treatments may be used together, depending on the nature of the cancer.
Several types of surgery may be used. These include:
• Cryosurgery, where abnormal cells are killed by freezing them
• Laser surgery, where a focused laser beam is used to kill cancer cells
• Conization, where a laser knife is used to remove cancerous tissue
• Simple hysterectomy, where the uterus is removed
• Radical hysterectomy, where the uterus and other tissue is removed
• Radical trachelectomy, which is a surgery that allows treatment without losing the ability to have kids
There are some other surgeries that also may be performed, depending in the nature of the cancer.
Radiation therapy uses a high-energy x-ray beam to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, which can be taken orally or intravenously. Each has side effects associated with the treatment that can cause a great deal of discomfort. Targeted therapy also uses drugs that have their own side effects.
Before deciding on any treatment for cervical cancer, make sure you understand the risks and potential side effects.
Alternative Treatments Used for Cervical Cancer
If cervical cancer treatment falls outside of mainstream treatment protocols, it is considered “alternative.” If alternative treatment is used in tandem with mainstream treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy, they are considered “complementary” treatments. If treatment unrelated to mainstream cancer care are used as the primary method for recovery, then they are referred to as “alternative.”
Many alternative treatments for cervical cancer focus on the body’s natural healing abilities, a key part of which is the immune system. The goal with alternative therapies is to reinforce the body’s natural defense system so it can effectively fight the cervical cancer cells, or prevent it from ever developing.
Boosting the body’s immune system is usually accomplished with a highly specialized diet, vitamin supplements, and other alternative therapies. Alternative treatments may be especially helpful for patients seeking relief from late stage cancer or the side effects of treatments like chemotherapy.
Some alternative cervical cancer treatments are focused directly on the patient. Tests on the specific cancer residing in the patients body are performed. The doctor will then use this information to develop a highly focused treatment protocol on the unique cancer residing in their body. Because every cancer is unique the individual, the idea is to use a broad range of testing to see what treatments are most effective at killing their cervical cancer. This is far different than the one-size-fits-all treatment approach employed by mainstream medicine.
As with any medical treatment, cervical cancer treatment is a highly personal matter that requires careful consideration. Always explore your options in detail so that you can make the best choices regarding small intestinal cancer treatment.
Vitamins and Supplements Used in the Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Some vitamins and supplements may play a role in preventing and treating cervical cancer. These include:
• Vitamin C
• Vitamin E
Folate is another key supplement used to prevent cervical dysplasia, as evidenced by some clinical studies. Before beginning any regimen of supplements, be sure to talk to your doctor.
Natural Remedies that May Help Cervical Cancer
There are number of natural remedies that many cancer patients believe have the power to minimize symptoms and possibly even fight the disease. Side effects caused by treatments like targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy may also be alleviated with certain natural remedies. Some of the most common natural remedies used by cervical cancer patients include massage, acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, meditation, physical therapy, and counseling.
Dealing with the emotional stress associated with cervical cancer can also take a toll on the patient, and their family. The many side effects of treatment may also lead to depression. Natural remedies can help, and these include hydrotherapy, herbal preparations, vitamins, and dietary supplements.
Before using any natural remedy or treatment, be sure to speak with your cancer doctor and make sure it won’t interfere with other treatment protocols. Also remember that a healthy lifestyle, good nutrition, and daily exercise are the best ways to reduce risk factors and prevent the onset of cancer.
If you would like to learn more information about cervical cancer, contact a member of the Causenta team.
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