Information on Cervical Cancer:
How does cancer of the cervix develop?
Cervical cancer often takes years to develop from abnormal cells in the cervix. Fortunately, the change in cervical cells to make them pre-cancerous is detectable on a smear test, so action can be taken long before the cancer has even started to develop.
These abnormal cells in the cervix are sometimes referred to as cervical intra-epithelial neoplasia or CIN. This basically describes cervical cells that have undergone changes that give them the potential to develop into cancer if left untreated.
These cellular changes are normally the result of a viral infection such as the human papillomavirus, of which there are over 80 types – many of which do not result in cervical cancer. However, there are a few types – particularly type 16, that are found alongside cervical cancer. The damage caused by these types can be compounded if the immune system is weakened by other factors such as illnesses, infections, a poor diet and smoking.
The symptoms of cervical cancer
The symptoms of cervical cancer can include any of the following:
- Abnormal bleeding – such as between periods or after intercourse.
- Vaginal discharge – which can have an unpleasant smell.
- Discomfort during intercourse.
- New bleeding – in women who have stopped their periods after the menopause.
Although there are numerous medical conditions that can create these symptoms it is important that you discuss any physical signs with your doctor immediately.
Methods of diagnosis
- Cervical smear or Pap test – The smear or Pap test is a routine screening test to detect cellular changes in the cervix. It is useful as an early warning of the potential for developing cancer, but it can also detect cervical cancer early.
- Colposcopy – This involves the use of a small microscope (called a colposcope) to look at any areas of the cervix that are causing concern. A solution that can show up any abnormal areas on the cervix is used to improve the effectiveness of the technique. This procedure can also allow the doctor to take a biopsy where necessary.
- Cone biopsy – If the colposcopy is inconclusive or if the abnormal area cannot be examined properly, a cone biopsy may be carried out. This is where a small conical section of the cervix is taken for examination under a microscope. Upon examination it may be that the removal of this section of cervix is sufficient and so no further treatment is needed. However, if the cancer is larger than the cone biopsy you will still have to undergo further treatment, but the doctors will know exactly what they are dealing with.