Cervical cancer is a disease in which malignant cells develop in the tissues of the cervix.
The cervix, the lower part of the uterus that extends into the upper end of the vagina, connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Most cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which has more than 100 different strains.
Some strains of the HPV virus can change cervical cells into precancerous cells, which if left untreated, can eventually turn into cervical cancer. When healthy cells become precancerous the condition is called dysplasia.
There are two levels of cervical precancerous cells:
Early changes in the size, shape, and number of cells are considered to be minimal. These abnormal cells may go away on their own, but they may grow larger or become more abnormal. These early changes most often occur in women between the ages of 25 and 35, but can appear at any age.
Other names your doctor may use for these low-grade lesions are:
- Low-grade SIL (squamous intraepithelial lesion).
- Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia 1 (CIN 1).
Moderate or severe dysplasia
When there are a large number of precancerous cells on the surface of the cervix, it is called moderate or severe dysplasia. The cells often do not become cancerous for many months, perhaps years. Moderate to severe dysplasia develops most often in women between the ages of 30 and 40, but can occur at any age.
Other names your doctor may use for these high-grade lesions are:
- High-grade SIL (squamous intraepithelial lesion).
- CIN 2 or 3.
- Carcinoma in situ.
Although cervical cancers start from cells with pre-cancerous changes (pre-cancers), only some of the women with pre-cancers of the cervix will develop cancer. The change from pre-cancer to true invasive cancer usually takes several years, but it can happen in less than a year. In some women, the pre-cancer cells go away without any treatment. Because it is impossible to predict which pre-cancerous cells will go away on their own, treatment is essential to preventing true cancers.
In most cases, there are no early signs of cervical cancer.That's why screening via regular Pap testing is essential. Once the abnormal cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue there may be symptoms.
- Vaginal bleeding
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, which may last longer than usual
- Start and stop bleeding between regular menstrual periods
- Bleeding after menopause, intercourse, douching or pelvic exam
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during intercourse
- Increased urinary frequency
- Swollen leg (seen in more advanced cases)
These symptoms are also present in other conditions and should be checked out by your Riverside doctor for further evaluation
Approximately, 11,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year.
Not long ago, cervical cancer was considered one of the most serious cancers for women. Today the recent advances in vaccines, screening and treatment have caused the number of cervical cancer deaths to fall from a high of 35,000 a year to 4,000 per year.
Cervical cancer is easier than ever to detect and very treatable when found early so it is essential that you get screened on a regular basis.
The Risk Factors
Human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common risk factor for developing cervical cancer. While HPV is found in many women, not all women infected with HPV will develop cervical cancer.
Giving birth to many children.
Having many sexual partners.
Having first intercourse at an early age.
Diethystilbestrol (DES) exposure before birth.
Oral contraceptive use.
Weakened immune system.
The best method for reducing your risk is to have regular Pap tests, which identify abnormal, precancerous cells when they can be treated easily.