Cervical cancer is most often caused by HPV, but not always. It can affect women at any age past about 20.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
- Usually there are no symptoms
- Irregular bleeding, particularly after sex or between periods
- Large cancers can cause foul-smelling discharge or pelvic pain
- Widespread cancers can cause back pain and leg swelling or urinary issues
Who gets cervical cancer?
Because cervical cancer is so closely linked with HPV infection, those with more sexual partners and early age of first sexual experiences tend to get the most cervical cancer. Sex with more people means more likelihood of contracting the virus, which is spread by women and men, but men are not tested.
Grades of cancerous changes
- CIN 1 – mild cervical dysplasia (can disappear by itself)
- CIN 2 – moderate dysplasia (can disappear by itself)
- CIN 3 – severe dysplasia and cancerous cells (doesn’t disappear by itself)
Diagnosing cervical cancer
Pap tests are used to check for cervical cell changes. If suspect cells are found, a biopsy will be taken to evaluate the cells further. Once that has been completed, further examinations may be carried out.
What can I expect from my diagnosis?
Advanced cancers have the lowest five-year survival rate. Early detection means better outcomes, since once the cancer is more advanced, symptoms become visible. This is why regular Pap tests are critical, particularly for anyone sexually active. Involvement of other structures in the body means worse outcomes. Tumour size, invasion of nearby tissues, and other factors come into play. Each case is determined individually.
Treatments for cervical cancer
If the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the cervix, removing the tissue via surgery (hysterectomy), plus radiation, is a common treatment. If there is some spreading, a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy are recommended. Any advanced or recurrent cancer is usually treated with chemotherapy.