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Cervical Cancer

1. What is Cervical Cancer?

  • Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer.
  • Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular Pap smears and follow-up. It is also highly curable when found and treated early.

2. What causes Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is usually caused by the Human Papilloma Virus or HPV for short. HPV is commonly spread through sexual contact and can cause an infection in the cervix. This may cause the cells of the cervix to change and become pre-cancer cells. Sometimes pre-cancer cells may turn into cancer if they are not found and treated early.

3. Who gets Cervical Cancer?

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer occurs most often in women over age 30.

4. What puts me at greater risk?

In addition to having HPV, several factors may affect your risk of developing cervical cancer including:

  • Smoking.
  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or any other condition which makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
  • Having given birth to three or more children.
  • Multiple sexual partners.

4. What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?

Sometimes during the early stages of cervical cancer, there may not be symptoms. If symptoms are experienced they could include:

  • Abnormal bleeding: after or during sexual intercourse, or between periods
  • Postmenopausal bleeding, if you are not on HRT or have stopped it for six weeks
  • Unusual and/or unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • Discomfort or pain during sex
  • Lower back pain.

Remember, these symptoms can be associated with many other conditions that are not cancer-related.

5. Is Cervical Cancer Infectious?

Cervical cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.

6. How is Cervical Cancer Detected?

Pap smears are done to detect cervical cancer. During this examination, a scraping of cells from the surface of the cervix is obtained during a vaginal examination. This is a quick, simple and painless test.

If the Pap smear has abnormal cells, a diagnostic procedure called colposcopy (i.e. Examination of the cervix with a microscope) is done. Certain chemicals may be applied onto the cervix to help pick up abnormal areas. These abnormal areas are then biopsied and examined under a microscope by the pathologist (a doctor who examines these tissues under a microscope).

If cervical cancer is confirmed on biopsy, other tests will be scheduled. These include radiological tests such as a chest x-ray and CT-scan or MRI of the abdomen and pelvis to exclude any regional or distant spread of cancer. Examination of the pelvis under general anaesthesia is often scheduled to determine the extent of the cancer.

7. What is the treatment of Cervical Cancer?

Treatment depends on the stage of the disease.

  • When the illness is in its initial stage, surgery may be employed and may or may not be complemented by radio and chemotherapy.
  • In cases where the disease has become more severe, but limited to the cervix, concomitant treatment with radiotherapy and chemotherapy is done, which will subsequently allow the completion of curative surgery. In more advanced cases, the combination of radiation and chemotherapy may provide good control of the disease.
  • If the disease is no longer limited to the pelvis, and even when it has affected distant organs such as the lung, chemotherapy will have the task of trying to contain the disease and provide symptomatic improvement.

8. What are some common side effects of Chemotherapy?

The most common side effects of chemotherapy include nausea and vomitting , however, medications known as antiemetics are available to help control these side effects. Other common side effects include mouth sores, fatigue, anemia, dizziness, infection, pain, hair loss, and loss of appetite.

9. Will they go away?

Yes, temporary side effects like nausea, vomitting, hair loss, and fatigue usually go away following the completion of treatment.

10. Can I work during treatments?

Some people benefit from keeping to a regular work schedule with flexibility if they don't feel well. Some schedule chemotherapy for Fridays so that they have time over the weekend to recover. Others may want to take medical leave from work. Talk to your oncologist about your concerns.

11.  What’s new in the treatment of Cervical Cancer?

Firstly, the advancement of technology in radiation therapy equipment has allowed more effective results of combined treatment with chemotherapy, allowing a significant reduction in the size of the lesions, reduced side effects and consequently a greater number of surgical indications. From the point of view of the surgery, the so-called “minimally invasive surgeries”, such as laparoscopic surgery, have been continuously improved, becoming more effective and safe. In this area, robotic surgery outstands, which, on the treatment of gynecological tumors, has one of its biggest jobs. Today we also have more active drugs for systemic treatment (chemotherapy) of this neoplasm. Probably in the short and medium term, we will have the use of immunobiological drugs to fight cancer of the cervix.

12. Are patients who are treated for Cervical Cancer still able to have children after treatment?

There’s a possibility for a patient to have children after being treated, but it depends on how early the cancer is detected. The earlier the cancer is found, the better the chance you may have to preserve your fertility.

13. Should I be screened for Cervical Cancer?

It is very important to get screened for cervical cancer because

  • Cervical cancer is one of the most easily detected cancer.
  • It is totally curally if detected early.
  • All women should begin cervical cancer screening when they are 21 years old. Screening should be done every 3 years in women with no history of abnormal Pap smear.

14. What can I do to prevent Cervical Cancer?

  • Get a regular Pap smear and know your test result.
  • Follow up on abnormal Pap smear.
  • Don’t smoke/ avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Use condoms during sex.
  • Limit the number of sexual partners.
  • You can get the HPV vaccine.
     

15. What is HPV Vaccine?

Primary prevention of cervical cancer is now available in the form of vaccines. The cervical cancer vaccine, called Gardasil®, is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26 and protects against the development of cervical cancer. The vaccine, which also protects against genital warts (and also has been approved for boys for this purpose), works by triggering the body's immune system to attack certain human papillomavirus (HPV) types, which have been linked to many cases of cervical cancer. It is best to get the vaccine before the start of sexual activity. The vaccine consists of a series of three shots, with shot two coming 2 months after the first, and shot three coming 6 months after the first.

Keypoints

  • Cervical cancer is the easiest female cancer to prevent with regular Pap smears and follow-up.
  • Cervical cancer occurs most often in women over age 30.
  • Cervical cancer is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people.
  • All women should begin cervical cancer screening when they are 21 years old.
  • Primary prevention of cervical cancer is now available in the form of HPV vaccines.

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