What are the stages of cervical cancer?
Determining the stage of cancer can help to estimate how far the cancer has spread and to how many organs. There are 4 stages of cancer:
Stage 0: Precancerous cells are present and can lead to cervical cancer.
Stage 1: Cancer cells have grown deeper into the tissue and may spread to nearby organs like lymph nodes and uterus.
Stage 2: Cancer cells spread across cervix and uterus. It may affect other organs.
Stage 3: Cancer cells spread to the walls of the pelvis and vagina. The cells may block the uterus and the tube that carries the urine to the bladder.
Stage 4: The cancer affects the bladder and grows out of pelvis. It later spreads to major organs like Liver, Lungs, bones etc.
How to diagnose cervical cancer?
Cancerous cells can be detected even before it develops into cervical cancer. There are various tests to detect cervical cancer.
Pelvic examination is done. In this, pelvis is manually examined and a sample of cervical cells is collected for testing. The sample is examined for the cell structure, size and growth etc.
If the sample shows abnormality in the cells, colonoscopy is used. Colonoscopy is where abnormal growths in cervix are noted and small tissue sample is taken through biopsy for further examination. Sometimes colonoscopy is not helpful to visualize admissions.
Then conization is done, where a cone shaped tissue is removed and examined. These samples are examined to determine if there are cancer cells and what stage it is in.
What is the treatment for cervical cancer?
The treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors like the stage of cancer, position of the cancer cells etc. The treatment options generally include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these options.
Surgery – Surgery is usually done in early stages of cancer. If it is a pre-cancerous stage or stage 1 or 2; cone biopsy is done to remove the cancer cells. LLETZ is where an electric current is passed through a wire loop to destroy the cancer cells. These two methods are the most simple and common treatments for early stages of cancer. Laser surgery is when laser beam is used as a knife to destroy the cancer cell tissues. It is a painful procedure. While this surgery uses heat to destroy the cells, Cryosurgery uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy the cancer cells.
For later stages of cervical cancer, Tracheolectomy is done where only cervix is surgically removed leaving behind the uterus and vagina. This option is generally recommended to young women who wish to have children. Hysterectomy is another surgery method recommended when the cancer hasn’t touched pelvis yet. The cervix and uterus are surgically removed in Total Hysterectomy or uterus, cervix, supporting ligaments and upper part of vagina are surgically removed in Radical Hysterectomy.
Radiotherapy – Radiotherapy is the method of exposing the cancer cells to radiation that will destroy the cancer cells. There are two types of radiation: External and Internal radiotherapy.
External radiotherapy is where the cancer affected area is exposed to specialized X-rays through a machine. Internal radiotherapy is where the radioactive applicants are inserted into the vagina or cervix to destroy.
Radiotherapy has few side effects. This is because the radiation not only destroys cancer cells but also healthy tissues. Some common side effects may be fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, skin irritation, bladder irritation, loss of appetite and pain while passing urine. Sometime the radiation can also effect ovaries and the hormonal production of the organ.
Chemotherapy is usually combined with radiotherapy. It is used when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is administration of drugs and injections to the blood stream depending on the cancer. Chemotherapy too has side effects based on the medication used. Some common side effects could be fatigue, nausea, hair loss, infertility etc.
How to prevent cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer usually does not show any symptoms until it is too late. So, regular screening tests should be done. Any abnormal cells can be detected by cervical smears. Early detection can help prevent cervical cancer altogether.
HPV vaccine for both males and females can prevent HPV infections and cervical cancer. Safe sex can not only avoid the risk of cervical cancer but also many other STDs like HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia etc. Fewer sexual partners and less frequent sexual intercourse may also reduce the risk of cervical cancer. Quitting smoking has many other health benefits apart from reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
Being aware of the symptoms of cervical cancer, safe sex and regular check-ups can help reduce the deaths due to cervical cancer.