Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and practicing “safe sex”. Young women receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection reduces the risk of cervical cancer, as well as reducing the risk of other associated HPV cancer involving the oral cavity and perianal skin.

Treatments for Cervical Cancer

Treatment depends on the stage of your cancer. There are several general approaches:

  • For the earliest stages of cervical cancer, either surgery alone, or radiation combined with chemotherapy may be used.
  • For later stages, radiation combined with chemotherapy is usually the main treatment.
  • For more advanced cancers, chemotherapy is often used with targeted radiation therapy. Participation in a clinical trial may also be an option.

No one treatment is best for everyone. Consulting with a doctor who specializes in this area can help obtain an optimal outcome for the patient’s condition.

Biologic Therapy
This procedure uses your body's immune system to fight your cancer. This is done by either stimulating your immune system to attack cancer cells or by introducing agents it needs, like antibodies, to kill them.

Chemotherapy
This well-known cancer treatment uses medicines taken intravenously or by mouth to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink tumors, or after to fight cancer cells that have potentially spread.

Cryotherapy
Cryosurgery is used to treat cancer at a non-invasive level. A metal probe cooled with liquid nitrogen kills abnormal cells by freezing them. Cryosurgery can be done in a doctor's office or clinic.

Hormone Blockers
Because estrogen and testosterone help some tumors grow, hormone inhibitors can block them and prevent tumor growth.

Intensity-Modulated Radiation
IMRT is an advanced form of radiation that uses external beams mapped to the exact shape of the tumor. The strength of beams can be adjusted. It is delivered from multiple directions to protect normal tissue nearby.

Pap Test
A test that checks the cells of the cervix for any changes that might result in cancer.

Stereotactic Radiation Therapy
Non-invasive, radiation therapy directed at the tumor. The stereotactic technique minimizes radiation from affecting normal tissue.

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What Is Cervical Cancer?

The cervix is at the outer end of the uterus (womb). It looks like a button with a narrow opening that leads into the uterus. Cervical cancer is growth of malignant cells in the cervix. Finding cervical cancer early by using Pap tests has increased chances for cure.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Risks include having sex before age 18, having many sexual partners, smoking, using birth control pills, having a mother who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy, and being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted disease (STD).

What Are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Women usually have no symptoms until cancer has reached nearby tissue. The most common symptom is vaginal bleeding or bleeding after sex. Discharge from the vagina may occur. Cancer that invades nearby tissues can cause back pain, the need to urinate often, and bowel changes.

How Is Cervical Cancer Diagnosed?

Pap smears are 95% accurate in finding early cervical cancer. Women older than 20 (or younger, if sexually active) should have routine Pap tests, at least until age 65.

If a Pap smear is abnormal, the gynecologist will use colposcopy (checking the cervix with a microscope to better identify abnormal cells). If needed, a cone biopsy may be done. In this biopsy, a cone-shaped sample of tissue is removed for study.

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How Is Cervical Cancer Treated?

Treatment depends on the cancer stage. Staging means finding out whether cancer has spread, and if so, how much. Stages are numbered 0 to IV, depending on how far it has spread. A health care provider uses a pelvic examination, blood and urine tests, x-rays, and computed tomography (CT) for staging. Additional tests such as cystoscopy and proctosigmoidoscopy (examinations with lighted tubes put into the bladder and rectum, respectively) may also be done.

Treatment may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy (anticancer drugs). Early cancer can be burned away by laser, frozen (cryotherapy), or cut out. Advanced cancer needs surgery such as hysterectomy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Cervical Cancer:
  • DO understand that good nutrition after surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy is important.
  • DO understand that a team of doctors, including a primary care health care provider, gynecologist, oncologist, and radiation oncologist, can be involved in care.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have abnormal bleeding.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have pain, bowel or urinary problems, vaginal drainage, or fever after surgery.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have hot flashes, vaginal dryness, or vaginal pain with sex.
  • DON’T miss follow-up health care provider appointments.
  • DON’T forget to stay active. Exercising daily helps you deal with the disease.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask about emotional support groups.
  • DON’T forget about social workers who can help with services such as rehabilitation, home care, finances, and transportation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION

Contact the following source:

  • National Cancer Institute (NCI)
    Tel: (800) 4-CANCER (422-6237)
    Website: http://www.cancer.gov
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (800) ACS-2345 (227-2345)
    Website: http://www.cancer.org

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor