In a previous article, we have discussed what cervical cancer is. In addition, we talked about its causes, signs and symptoms, and risk factors.
As a refresher, cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The cervix is a part of the female reproductive system connecting a woman’s vagina to her womb. Women of all ages can develop cervical cancer.
However, it most commonly affects those of ages 30 to 45 years old. Furthermore, it is very unlikely to affect those ages 24 and below. The most common symptom of cervical is unusual vaginal bleeding.
Other symptoms a foul-smelling discharge from the vagina, pain during sexual intercourse, and cervical discomfort and pain.
Prevention of cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is the only type of cancer that can be prevented through vaccination. The most effective way of preventing it is to get vaccinated. HPV vaccines come in various brands, but the most popular ones are Cervarix®, Gardasil®, and Gardasil 9®.
It is important to note that you should only get vaccinated IF you do not have cervical cancer yet. Thus, testing should be done first.
Otherwise, if you already have cervical cancer, it is useless to get vaccinated because the HPV vaccine is not a cure and can only be used as a measure of prevention.
The best time to get vaccinated is before or during the teenage years. This is the time when the immune response produced by the vaccine is the strongest.
The HPV vaccine is given in a sequence of shots. Another method of preventing cervical cancer is to undergo regular testing for pre-cancers through an HPV test or a Pap smear.
If the test shows a pre-cancer, it can easily be treated. This, therefore, prevents cervical cancer before it even begins. Majority of invasive cervical cancers affect women who do not undergo regular Pap smears.
A Pap smear is a procedure wherein cells are collected from the woman’s cervix using a handheld device. The cells will then be observed under a microscope to check for pre-cancers and cancers.
The same sample collected can also be used again for an HPV test. There are some ways to help you prevent developing pre-cancers. Some of them include the following:
- Quit smoking.
- Get an HPV vaccine.
- Always practice protected sexual intercourse preferably with only one sexual partner.
Diagnosis of cervical cancer
As mentioned earlier, one of the ways to check for pre-cancers and cancers is through an HPV test or a Pap smear. If the Pap smear shows that there are abnormalities, your OB-Gyne may also perform a colposcopy.
This is a procedure focused on checking your vulva, vagina, and cervix for any abnormalities. This is done using a colposcope, which is a tiny microscope with a light at the end.
The colposcope is inserted into your cervix to check for any growths or abnormalities. If your OB-Gyne finds anything unusual, a sample of your tissue may also be collected.
A biopsy will then be conducted to check for the presence of malignant cells.
Treatment of cervical cancer
Treatment varies on how much it has already progressed. This is why diagnosing cervical cancer early is very important so that treatment can also be started right away.
Removal of pre-cancers
If your tests showed that there are no cancerous cells, but there are “pre-cancers” (biological changes in your cervix that could become cancerous eventually), then these pre-cancerous cells would be removed.
They can be removed through the following available methods:
- Cone Biopsy – In this procedure, the doctor will surgically remove the area of tissue that is abnormal, usually cone-shaped.
- LLETZ – this stands for “large loop excision of the transformation zone.” In this method, electric current and a fine wire are used in removing the pre-cancerous cells.
Another method of treating cervical cancer is through radiotherapy. The success rate of this method is similar to that of surgery.
However, it is particularly advantageous if the cancer cells are near the colon or bladder, because it is non-invasive.
The last method of treating cervical cancer is through surgery. The 3 kinds of surgical procedures available for treating cervical cancer are the following:
- Pelvic exenteration
This is a major surgical procedure that is only ideal if cancer has already been treated in the past but has recurred.
In this procedure, the rectum, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, womb, vagina, and cervix are all removed.
In this procedure, the doctor will remove the cervix and womb. This is ideal for those whose cancer is still in the early stages.
It is also recommended that it be followed by radiotherapy to prevent it from recurring.
It should be noted though that if you undergo a hysterectomy, you cannot get pregnant anymore.
- Radical trachelectomy
In this procedure, the doctor will remove the upper part of the vagina, the cervix, and the tissues surrounding it.
The womb, however, will not be removed. This procedure is only appropriate if the cancer was diagnosed extremely early.
You can still get pregnant after undergoing this procedure. However, it is recommended that you wait six to twelve months after surgery before attempting to conceive.
If you believe that you are at risk of developing cervical cancer, get in touch with your trusted doctor right away. Prevention and early detection are key.
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