Do you have irregular bleeding or a moderate pain during intercourse? Is a sudden weight loss or loss of appetite bothering you? These can well be signs of cervical cancer. Don't ignore it for a long time as it can become malignant and become immune to medication. It is the second largest cancer in the world and every day 200 women die of cervical cancer in India. Most of the Asian and African countries are badly affected by this form of malignancy. "Cancer cells may be present in the cervix for 5-10 years before becoming invasive, affecting the deeper tissues and giving rise to symptoms. Even when the cancer is invasive, there is a chance of successful cure. Once it spreads through the pelvis to the vagina, uterus, bladder or rectum, it is much more difficult to cure," says gynecologist Kanika Chugh. As cervical cancer progresses to more advanced stages, symptoms begin to appear. Cervical cancer symptoms include:
This pain may be unrelated to other conditions, menstruation or physical exertion. It may go away at times but it is sure to come back with a harmful ailment.
Some women with cervical cancer may experience pain during vaginal intercourse. The pain may be moderate but should not be neglected at any cost.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most commonly experienced cervical cancer symptom. Women should be aware of post-coital bleeding (bleeding after sex), heavy periods, heavy spotting between periods or an additional period during the monthly cycle. Any heavy, sudden onset of abnormal vaginal bleeding should be reported to your physician immediately.
A vaginal discharge is a common symptom related to many women's conditions. In advanced cervical cancer, a vaginal discharge may be present and may or may not have an odour.
Smoking becomes an important factor of cervical cancer. Women are making this a habit and it is causing a lot of issues. "Apart from smoking and weak immune system, there are other factors which cause this menace. Dietary factor, multiple pregnancies, hormonal contraception are among the most common. However one should have a healthy and safe sex life in order to prevent this disease. A virus known as papilloma becomes the main cause and there are ways to get out of it", she added.
According to Ms Chugh, there are two treatments for cervical cancer. "Initially one wouldn't have any symptoms or a pain but there is medication for it once it has been detected. But unfortunately in India, it is detected so late that women lose their lives," she informs.
Most cases of cervical cancer can be prevented, since they start with easily detectable pre-cancerous changes. One of the best ways to prevent cervical cancer is by having regular Pap tests. If pre-cancerous changes are detected, appropriate treatment can prevent them from developing into invasive cancer. Another way to prevent cervical cancer it to avoid the risk factors -- abstaining from sexual relations when one is very young and using appropriate precautions when engaging in sexual activity will help avoid HPV infections. Quitting smoking will also help reduce the risk for cervical cancers.
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage of the disease and the extent of its spread. Three standard modes of treatment are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
A radical hysterectomy removes the entire uterus, the ovaries and the upper part of the vagina that is next to the cervix and the lymph nodes from the pelvic region.
It involves the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It can also be used for treatment of cervical cancer. In external radiation therapy, the rays are focussed on the pelvic area from a source that is outside the body. Alternatively, a pellet of radioactive materials may be placed internally near the tumor. This is called Brach therapy or interstitial radiotherapy. However, radiation therapy to the pelvic region has many effects. It could cause a narrowing of the vagina that makes intercourse painful.
It may also stop the ovaries from releasing eggs and producing the female hormone estrogen. When this happens, it causes premature menopause in young women and they will need estrogen replacement therapy. Many women are treated with both surgery and radiation therapy. When a woman is diagnosed with recurrent cervical cancer, an operation known as pelvic exoneration is performed. In this operation, besides the uterus, cervix and vagina, the urinary bladder, part of the colon and the rectum are also removed. In such cases, new openings need to be created for the urine and the faeces to pass out of the body. A new vagina may also be surgically created.
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