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Cervical Cancer Treatment: Symptoms, Classification, Diagnosis & Recovery

Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cancer cells that starts in the cervix. The cervix is the narrow part of the lower uterus. It is the entrance of the uterus, often referred to as the neck of the womb. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women around the world. It is the fourth leading cause of death caused by cancer in women. However, the important thing to note is that cervical cancer is also one of the most preventable types of cancer and early diagnosis of the disease can improve the mortality rate amongst patients.

A dramatic reduction in cervical cancer occurrence is primarily due to the widespread use of advanced screening tests such as pap tests to detect cervical abnormalities and allow for early treatment.

Where does cervical cancer take place

Under normal circumstances, the ectocervix is covered with flat, thin cells called squamous cells, and the endocervix is made up of another kind of cells called columnar cells. The area where these cells meet is called the transformation (T) zone. The T zone is the most likely location for cervical cancer cells to develop.

Cervical Cancer Causes

A majority of cervical cancer cases occur because of a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. It can transfer through sexual contact with an infected male partner.

There are many types of the HPV virus and not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Some of the HPV may cause genital warts. Some other cervical cancer risk factors include smoking, weak immune system, oral contraceptives, and multiple pregnancies.

More than 90 percent of the cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. The second most common type of cervical cancer is adenocarcinoma. Adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas are some of the rare types of cervical cancer.

  • Squamous cell Carcinoma: This is the most common type, accounting for approximately 70-90% of cervical cancer cases. It begins in the flat, thin cells (squamous cells) that line the outer surface of the cervix.
  • Adenocarcinoma: It accounts for 10-30% of cervical cancer cases. It starts in the glandular cells that produce mucus in the cervical canal. Adenocarcinoma may be more challenging to detect early through Pap smears.

Usually, there are no early signs of cervical cancer, but several cervical cancer symptoms may appear as the tumor grows in size. Some of the common cervical cancer symptoms include the following:

  • Bleeding between periods
  • Bleeding during sexual intercourse
  • Bleeding after menopause
  • Smelly or blood-filled vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain, back pain, and swollen legs
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

Before the treatment, the doctor you are consulting is likely to order a few tests to confirm the diagnosis and devise a treatment plan.

Regular cervical cancer screening can decrease the mortality rate substantially and early cervical cancer diagnosis helps better the success rate of cervical cancer treatment. Some of the common diagnostic tests used in cervical cancer diagnosis include the following:

  1. PAP smear test
  2. Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA test
  3. Blood test
  4. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  5. Computed tomography (CT scan)
  6. Pelvic ultrasound
  7. Biopsy
  8. Colposcopy

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor prepares a treatment plan and will eventually share it with you. He or she will conduct a thorough physical examination before surgical treatment. You will also be required to undergo a pelvic exam before treatment. During the pelvic exam, the doctor inserts two lubricated and gloved fingers inside the vagina to check for lumps and growths in the uterus. It helps to identify the size, shape, and exact location of the cancerous growths.

The treatment for cervical cancer may vary depending on the stage of the cancer, the patient's overall health, and other factors. Common treatment modalities include:

  • Surgery: Cervical cancer surgery can be used to remove cancer cells from their place of origin and the surrounding tissues. The common types of surgery used for cervical cancer treatment include:
  1. Conization (Cone Biopsy): Removal of a cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix to diagnose or treat early-stage cancer. Hysterectomy: Surgical removal of the uterus and, in some cases, surrounding tissues such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.
  2. Lymphadenectomy: Removal of lymph nodes in the pelvic area to check for cancer spread. Cryosurgery: In this method, an extremely cold metal probe is placed directly on the cervix, which kills the abnormal cells by freezing them.
  3. Laser surgery: In this surgery, a focused laser beam is directed through the vagina which vaporizes abnormal cells.
  • Radiation Therapy: it includes
  1. External Beam Radiation: Directing radiation from outside the body to the cancer site.
  2. Brachytherapy (Internal Radiation): Placing a radioactive source near or inside the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: This treatment makes use of anti-cancer medicines to kill cancer cells. The cytotoxic medicines used in chemotherapy enter the bloodstream and reach all areas of the body. This makes chemotherapy treatment useful for preventing cancer cells from dividing and growing in most parts of the body. Chemotherapy is often given in cycles, with each treatment period followed by a recovery time.It may be given orally or intravenously.
  • Targeted Therapy: Medications targeting specific molecules involved in cancer cell growth. This may be used in combination with chemotherapy.
  • Immunotherapy: Boosting the body's immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

The recovery process and duration of hospital stays following cervical cancer surgery can vary depending on the type of surgery performed and individual factors. Here's a general overview:

  1. Conization (Cone Biopsy) Typically, women can resume normal activities within a few days to a week. Hospital Stay: Conization is often performed on an outpatient basis, requiring no overnight hospital stay.
  2. Hysterectomy: Recovery time can range from a few weeks to several weeks, depending on the extent of surgery. Hospital Stay: For minimally invasive procedures (laparoscopic or robotic), hospital stays are usually shorter, often ranging from one to three days. For an open abdominal hysterectomy, the stay may be longer, typically around three to five days.
  3. Lymphadenectomy: Recovery time is influenced by the extent of lymph node removal. Hospital Stay: Typically, one to three days, depending on the surgical approach and overall recovery progress.

It's very crucial to note that individual recovery experiences may vary, and some women may need more time for healing. After discharge, patients will be advised to follow up with their healthcare team for postoperative care, including monitoring for any signs of complications or infection. Throughout the recovery process, patients are often encouraged to:

  • Avoid heavy lifting and strenuous activities.
  • Take prescribed medications as directed, including pain management.
  • Attend follow-up appointments for postoperative checks and discussions about further treatment, if needed.
  • Follow any specific instructions provided by the healthcare team, such as dietary guidelines and pelvic rest recommendations.

Moreover, emotional and psychological support is crucial during the recovery period, and healthcare providers may recommend counseling or support groups to address any concerns or emotional aspects of the journey.

Patient Testimonial: Mrs Henshaw from Nigeria underwent Cervical Cancer Treatment in India
Mrs. Affiong Uko Henshaw

Nigeria

Mrs Henshaw from Nigeria underwent Cervical Cancer Treatment in India Read Full Story

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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How quickly can cervical cancer develop?

A: Even though it may take years for precancerous growths to turn into cancer, it is highly recommended that you get any precancerous growths removed as soon as possible.

Q: What is the success rate of cervical cancer treatment?

A: The 5-year survival rate in the case of White women is around 69 percent. In the case of Black women, the survival rate is around 57 percent. The 5-year survival rate can be as high as 91 percent in cases it is diagnosed at an early stage.

Q: Can you die from cervical cancer?

A: It is possible to die from cervical cancer. It is estimated that around 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the US every year and out of the nearly 4,000 patients with cervical cancer die annually.

Q: What are the symptoms of advanced stages of cervical cancer?

A: Some of the late symptoms of cervical cancer include difficulty urinating, blood in the stool, constipation, difficulty in bowel movement, and blood in the urine.

Q: How much does it cost to treat cervical cancer?

A: Cervical cancer treatment cost varies from one country to the other. It depends on several other factors such as the type of treatment modality used, the number and type of tests conducted, hospital charges, and the experience of the surgeon.