How you can help raise awareness
There are so many ways that you can get involved in this campaign. You can display posters in your workplace and organise fundraising challenges, or share information, tips and point people in the direction of support services. Similarly, you might share your own experience and what you wish you had known ahead of this. Finally, you can use your social media presence to talk about cervical screening and share any tips to make someone's journey a little easier.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer slowly develops when there are abnormal cell changes within the cervix. Despite this, these changes won't lead to any symptoms, meaning that a cervical screening test is necessary. If these tests indicate abnormal cell changes, you may have to undergo preventative treatment.
The cervix is the lower part of the womb (uterus) and joins to the top of the vagina. In the UK 3,200 people with a cervix are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and people of all ages can be affected.
There are multiple types of cervical cancer, though the two most common types are carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Carcinoma is the most common type, it develops from a cell that covers the outside of the cervix, at the top of the vagina. However, adenocarcinoma develops from a cell found in the cervical canal.
In addition to these primary types, cervical cancer can also come in the form of sarcoma, lymphoma, neuroendocrine carcinoma, clear cell carcinoma, or adenosquamous carcinoma. These types are much rarer and may require a different course of treatment.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
As previously mentioned, very early-stage cervical cancer doesn't usually present symptoms. It will only be detected through cervical screening tests. However, when any abnormal changes to the cells within the cervix occur and develop into cancer, the common symptoms may include vaginal bleeding after menopause, after sex, or between periods. You may also have heavier periods, an odorous vaginal discharge, recurrent urine infections, or pain in the lower back or tummy.
Of course, these symptoms may not necessarily mean you have cervical cancer. Still, it's important to book an appointment with your GP regardless. Symptoms such as these can feel embarrassing to discuss, but your GP will understand and put you at ease.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
The greatest risk factor for cervical cancer is an infection called the human papillomavirus (HPV). There are over 100 types of this virus. Some types can affect the cervix, resulting in abnormal cell changes, which could result in cervical cancer.
Diagnosis of Cervical Cancer
Typically, a diagnosis will start with visiting your GP to examine you. Depending on your symptoms, they may refer you to a hospital specialist for further tests and assessments, such as blood tests, a biopsy, and scans. On occasion, cervical cancer can be diagnosed during a cervical screening, though this is somewhat rare.
Staging of Cervical Cancer
The stage of cervical cancer indicates its size and whether it has spread beyond the area in which it started. These stages include four main stages, each of which are then divided into further subtypes. Cervical cancer stage one is the earliest stage of cancer. During stage 1A, the cancer will only be detectable by a colposcope or microscope and is no deeper than 5mm. Upon reaching stage 1B, the cancer will be over 5mm deep and up to 4cm wide.
Once cervical cancer has developed to stage two, it will have spread to the upper part of the vagina or the tissue surrounding the cervix. At this point, the cancer is 4cm or larger. In stage three, the cancer will have spread to the lower part of the vagina, the tissue at the sides of the pelvic area, or to nearby lymph nodes. Finally, stage four cervical cancer is where the cancer has spread to the bowel, bladder, or beyond the pelvic area.
Treatment for Cervical Cancer
To determine your treatment, you'll meet with a team of specialists to discuss your options. This will depend on whether you wish to be pregnant in the future, whether you've been through menopause, your general health, the size of the cancer, and the stage of the cancer.
The treatments for cervical cancer include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, proton beam therapy, and immunotherapy. Your oncologist will walk you through the benefits of each treatment and how suitable they are to your circumstances. Treatment for cancer is specific to you as an individual, so it's important to find the one that works for you.
If you'd like to enquire about cervical cancer treatment at the Rutherford Cancer Centres, please contact us. And if it's been longer than three years since your last smear test, please book an appointment today at your GP surgery.