What is Cervical Cancer?
The third type of cancer with the most occurrences among women is cervical cancer. However, this type of cancer is often undetected until it has reached the advanced stages. This can be for many reasons. Sometimes the patients don’t develop symptoms until the later stages, or the patient is simply unaware of what the symptoms are. In either case, being educated about this type of cancer can lead to better prevention or better treatment.
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix. The cervix is the spot on the body connecting the uterus to the vagina. The uterus is where a baby develops. The cervix has two main types of cells. The first is called squamous cells and is found on the exocervix. The second is called glandular cells and is found on the endocervix. The transformation zone is the name given to the place where these two cells come together. This zone is where most cervical cancer begins.
There is a slow change of normal, healthy cells into pre-cancerous cells and then these develop into cancer cells. When these cancer cells are observed under a microscope, they are identified as one of two types. One type is called squamous cell carcinoma. As mentioned earlier, squamous cells are found on the exocervix, and the cancer, when observed with a microscope, looks like squamous cells. The other is called adenocarcinoma. This type starts on the endocervix primarily with the cells that produce mucous. On infrequent occasions there are elements of both types of cells found. In this case, the cervical cancer is referred to as adenosquamous carcinomas or mixed carcinomas.
The change from pre-cancerous cells to cancer cells is usually slow to develop. The majority of women who have pre-cancer cells will need no treatment, as these will go away naturally. However since there is the possibility that pre-cancer cells could develop into cancer, they should be taken seriously. What should women be on the lookout for as cervical cancer symptoms?
Overview of the symptoms and signs of cervical cancer
It can be difficult to notice any outward symptoms of this cancer in its early stages. However, a patient should be aware of her own body and be observant to any subtle changes that may take place. These symptoms are not always indications that a woman has cervical cancer, but these are indications that could lead to the diagnosis of this type of cancer. If any of these changes take place with a woman’s body, then she should discuss them with her doctor.
One symptom is vaginal bleeding that is not associated with the normal menstrual cycle. The type of bleeding that could be a sign of cervical cancer is after sexual relations, between the cycle of menstruation, and after menopause, when monthly menstruation has ended. Women with cervical cancer may experience heavier or longer menstrual cycles than normal. When a woman has heavy vaginal bleeding, this indicates that she may have the advanced stages of cervical cancer.
A second sign to be on the watch for is a vaginal discharge. An increased flow of discharge, one that is unpleasant in smell, and a mix of blood and water are all changes that would warrant seeking a medical consultation. Of course not all vaginal discharges are a sign of cancer; it could merely be an infection. Either way the doctor can recommend further treatment.
Painful sexual relations
A third sign is painful sexual relations. While this too could be caused by other issues, such as medical and mental, it could also be the result of irritation to the cells, causing pain. The irritation to the cervix during sexual relations or the insertion of a diaphragm can also cause bleeding.
Pain in the pelvic area
A forth sign is general pain in the pelvic area. The pain could also impact the back and legs. As the cancer progresses, the pain typically worsens as well.
Other possible signs
A fifth sign could be unexplained weight loss. This can be because the woman experiences a loss of appetite. With weight loss, the patient may experience vomiting and nausea.
Having knowledge of the different cervical cancer symptoms can help women to be more aware of their own bodies and to be keeping an eye out for cervical cancer. These symptoms are not in end of themselves diagnostic tools for cervical cancer, but they do provide women with indications on whether they should talk to their doctor about these symptoms. This type of cancer is hard to detect, but it is possible with cervical cancer screening. Bear in mind that the key to treating cervical cancer successfully is early detection.