Cancer of the cervix, or cervical cancer) is a common cancer type occurring in the cervix – the lower part of the uterus connecting to the vagina. Different strains of HPV (human papillomavirus), a sexually transmitted infection,can cause cervical cancer, and it is a leading cause of this condition.

Many people get exposed to HPV, but the immune system prevents the virus from causing harm. In a few people, the virus may remain in the body for several years, contributing to the process that leads to abnormal cervical cells that may develop into cervical cancer.

You can reduce the risk of having cervical cancer by regularly screening at a private well woman clinic and getting the HPV vaccine that protects against the infection.

Symptoms of cervical cancer

There are generally no symptoms or signs in the early stages of cervical cancer. However, in advanced stages, cervical cancer causes the following:

  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Watery and bloody vaginal discharge that has a foul odour. The discharge may also be heavy
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause, between periods or after intercourse

When you should visit a doctor

It is best to book an appointment at a well woman clinic near you if you notice the symptoms above or any symptoms that caused you concern.

Causes of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer occurs when healthy cervical cells undergo changes (mutations) in their DNA. The DNA in the cells contains instructions, telling the cells what they should do.

Generally, healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate and die at a set time, but the mutations tell cells to grow continuously without dying. The cells accumulate to form a mass called a tumour.

Cancer cells affect the surrounding tissues and break off from a tumour to spread (metastasise) to other body parts.

The exact cause of cervical cancer is unclear, but HPV can affect its development. Certain factors like lifestyle choices and environmental factors may contribute to the development of HPV in the cervix into cervical cancer.

Types of cervical cancer

The diagnosed cervical cancer can determine your treatment and prognosis. The main cervical cancer types include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

This cervical cancer develops in the squamous (thin, flat cells), lining the outer part of the cervix and projecting into the vagina. Most people with cervical cancer have squamous cell carcinoma.

  • Adenocarcinoma

It develops in the column-shaped glandular cell lining the cervical canal.

In some cases, these two cells cause cervical cancer. Cervical cancer rarely occurs in other cervical cells.

Risk factors

The following are risk factors for cervical cancer development.

  • Having several sex partners

Having several sexual partners increases the risk of getting HPVwhich contributes to the development of cervical cancer.

  • Other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

If you have other STIs like syphilis, HIV/AIDS, chlamydia and gonorrhoea, your risk of getting HPV is higher.

  • Early sexual activity

Engaging in sex from an early age increases the risk of contracting HPV.

  • Smoking

Studies have shown that smoking is a high-risk factor for squamous cell cervical cancer.

  • A weakened immune system

If another health condition or HPV weakens the immune system, it increases the likelihood of developing cervical cancer.

  • Exposure to miscarriage prevention drug

If your mother has tooth diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant for you, you may have a higher risk of adenocarcinoma cervical cancer.

Prevention

You can reduce your risk of having cervical cancer with the following.

  • Ask a doctor for an HPV vaccine

Receiving the HPV vaccine to prevent HPV infection can minimise the risk of HPV-related cancers, including cervical cancer. Your doctor can inform you if the HPV vaccine is suitable for you.

  • Engage in safe sex

Engaging in safe sex practices like using a condom during any sexual intercourse and reducing your number of sex partners can reduce your risk of cervical cancer.

  • Avoid smoking

If you do not smoke, continue avoiding it, but if you already smoke, consider talking to your doctor to know how to quit.

  • Routine Pap tests

Pap tests can identify precancerous conditions in the cervix to monitor cell changes in your cervix. Medical experts suggest getting a Pap test from age 21 and repeating the test every couple of years.

If you need a best London Gynaecologist for your routine Pap test, visit Gynae Clinic or call 020 7183 1049 to book an appointment.

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