What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer that affects the cervix. Around 2,800 females in the UK are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year. Cervical cancer is most common among women under the age of 35 and it is the second most common form of cancer among young women, besides breast cancer.
There are two major forms of cervical cancer, which are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
In the majority of cases the signs of cervical cancer are difficult to spot and many of the indications can be caused by other health conditions. It is still a good idea to get checked out if you notice any of the below warning signs:
- Abnormal bleeding (from the vagina) between periods or after intercourse
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge
What causes cervical cancer?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are a result of the HPV (human papilloma virus). However, many people are exposed to the HPV and do not develop cervical cancer. Risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Sexual partners: the more sexual partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to the HPV, which increases your risk of developing cervical cancer
- Having children early: women who have a baby before the age of 17 are more likely to develop cervical cancer
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Taking the contraceptive pill increases your risk of developing cervical cancer very slightly
Cervical cancer diagnosis
If you have any of the symptoms cited above you should see your GP. They will ask you a sequence of questions concerning symptoms and will pass you to an expert in this field for further tests if they think you have cervical cancer. At the hospital, tests will be carried out to enable doctors to make a diagnosis. These tests may include:
- Colposcopy: this test is used to examine the cervix
- Cone biopsy
- LLETZ (large loop excision of the transformation zone)
Cervical cancer screening
Cervical cancer screening is provided by the NHS for women over the age of 25 and is the most effective way of diagnosing and treating cervical cancer early. Early diagnosis increases survival rates significantly.
How is cervical cancer treated?
Treatment for cervical cancer will usually vary according to the stage and rank of cancer. Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used to treat cancer, but the care team will decide which course of treatment is best based on the individual case.
What is the outlook for cervical cancer?
If cervical cancer is diagnosed early and it has not spread it can usually be treated effectively. However, if the cervical cancer is found to have spread to other areas in the body the outlook is not as positive.
Living with cervical cancer
Being diagnosed with and accepting that you have cervical cancer is never easy and you may feel a mixture of emotions. Your care team can offer advice and support, but if you need additional information or emotional support, you can get in touch with one of the UK's well-founded cancer charities.