What You Need to Know
There are three reasons why I am writing this “Cervical Cancer 101” post for you today…
1.) It is a serious condition that affects thousands of women every single year.
2.) I understand that cervical cancer isn’t something anyone wants to think about — I didn’t either – until I was diagnosed. (Ironically January, which is cervical cancer awareness month).
3.) Cervical cancer has stages and the earlier the stage, the better results with treatment.
So, what is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the cervix, which is located at the lower part of the uterus. It’s estimated that over 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States every year.
While it can be frightening to think about, there are steps you can take to understand and prevent the disease. Knowing what cervical cancer is and how it develops can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk for infection.
Understanding what causes it, and how to prevent it, are essential steps towards staying healthy and reducing your risk for infection.
- Getting vaccinated against HPV can provide protection against some strains of the virus that cause cervical cancer
- Pap smears allow for early detection
- Practicing safe sex by using condoms and limiting your number of sexual partners
- Quitting smoking will also help reduce your overall chance of getting cervical cancer or other health problems down the line
With knowledge comes power—and with power comes prevention!
So, what causes it? What can you do to prevent it? What to expect if you have it.
Where is the cervix?
The cervix is located in the lower part of the uterus. It is the opening to the uterus and it sits at the top of the vagina. The cervix is made up of two types of tissue: squamous and glandular. The squamous tissue makes up the outside of the cervix and the glandular tissue makes up the inside of the cervix.
Cervical Cancer 101
What are the causes?
It occurs when abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix grow out of control.
There are more than 100 strains of HPV, but only a few of them cause cervical cancer. Still, the primary cause of cervical cancer is HPV infection.
Certain types of HPV are known to increase a woman’s risk for developing cervical cancer, so it’s important to get tested regularly if you engage in any kind of sexual activity that could potentially expose you to HPV.
Other risk factors include smoking cigarettes, having multiple sexual partners, having HIV or AIDS, or having a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions or treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?
The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated against HPV.
The HPV vaccine is recommended for women from ages 9-26 and offers protection against certain high-risk strains of HPV that could lead to cervical cancer.
Additionally, getting regular Pap smears can help detect precancerous cells before they become an issue. If detected early enough, these abnormal cells can be treated before they develop into full blown cervical cancer.
Again, abstaining from smoking and using condoms when engaging in sexual activity can reduce your risk for cervical cancer or any other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). (Smoking weakens your body’s ability to fight off infections.)
As you can see, there are several ways to protect yourself from developing cervical cancer in the first place. Vaccinating against HPV is especially important for young women since this virus is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer worldwide.
Who is at risk for developing this type of cancer?
When it comes to cervical cancer, the CDC estimates that over 13,000 women are diagnosed in the U.S. every year. Although it’s frighteningly common, there are still certain demographics that are more likely than others to develop the disease.
Women aged 35-44 and sex workers have been identified as particularly at risk, likely due to their increased exposure to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
What are the symptoms?
Since cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting women today, it is important to be aware of the symptoms of this disease, so you can seek treatment as soon as possible.
The most common symptom of cervical cancer is irregular bleeding from the vagina. This may occur during sex, or after menopause. Other symptoms include pain during sex, discharge from the vagina (possibly with an odor), and pelvic pain.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor as soon as possible for a diagnosis. Early detection and treatment of cervical cancer can save your life.
How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosing cervical cancer can be a confusing and nerve-wracking process. Fortunately, with the right approach and knowledge, understanding the tests and procedures involved can help alleviate some of the worries one might have.
A pelvic exam is the first step in assessing if there is an issue with cervical cells; this will usually involve taking a Pap test or HPV test to check for any abnormal cells in the cervix.
Depending on the results, further tests may include additional imaging procedures such as an X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan or PET scan to get a better look at how far advanced a possible diagnosis of cancer might be.
For patients whose diagnosis is unclear or require further testing, a biopsy may be needed for more conclusive results.
While the thought of going through these diagnostic tests may feel overwhelming at first, it is important to remember that catching any abnormalities early on gives you your best chance for successful treatment.
What are the stages of cervical cancer?
Understanding the stages of cervical cancer can help patients prepare for treatment options, as well as provide insight into their prognosis. Generally, cervical cancer is separated into four distinct stages. This is a serious disease that affects not just the body but also carries emotional and mental stress for both the patient and their family.
- The first stage focuses on pre-invasive cancer – meaning it is more superficial than other forms – and includes such minuscule changes as dysplasia (cellular abnormalities).
- Stage two shows evidence of more spread in terms of malignancies, where we may see infiltration beyond what is familiar within the cervix area.
- In stage three, there may be pockets of tumor growth along with possibility of affect in lymphatic systems located near or around pelvic areas.
- Stage four indicates further spreading beyond cervix to other regions of body, such as bones or lungs.
To ensure proper diagnosis and care, it’s important to know each step of this process so that medical professionals can give best possible care to patients affected by cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer 101 – Treatment options
Cervical cancer is a serious and complex disease, so it’s understandable that those diagnosed with it may experience stress or anxiety. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to help individuals manage the condition.
The primary treatment of cervical cancer often consists of a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and/or surgery depending on how far the disease has progressed.
Chemotherapy can be used both before and after surgery to shrink tumors or destroy any remaining cancer cells, while radiation therapy works by destroying the genetic material within cancer cells in order to stop them from growing and dividing.
Surgery may involve removing part or all of the cervix or uterus. One key point to remember is that the earlier cervical cancer is detected and treated, the higher your likelihood of successful recovery.
What are the odds of beating this type of cancer?
The good news is that it is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. With early detection and advanced treatments, the chances of beating cervical cancer are excellent. However, my research shows only about 44% of cases are diagnosed early. That’s why awareness is so important!
Many cases of cervical cancer respond very well to treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy, often leading to full remission or even a cure.
Additionally, through awareness and education about preventive measures such as regular screenings, HPV vaccinations, and lifestyle changes, we can make serious headway towards ultimately putting an end to cervical cancer.
Based on my research, the odds of curing each stage of cervical cancer depends on many factors, including the stage and spread of the cancer, as well as how soon it is caught and treated.
- If cervical cancer is detected and treated in stage 0 or 1, there is an excellent chance of achieving a full recovery.
- Similarly, if stage 2 cancer is identified before it has spread beyond the cervix, treatment can also be highly successful.
- Later stages may require more intensive treatments but with appropriate care it is still possible for patients to recover successfully from cervical cancer.
- If the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue or organs, that means it is in a later stage, and about 58% survive for 5 years.
- If the cancer spread to tissues or organs further away from the cervix, the 5-year survival rate is 18%.
These facts highlight the importance of regular check-ups and thorough screenings for women of all ages; scheduling these examinations can vastly reduce one’s risk of developing this complication, an improve chances at successful treatment.
It is essential to heed the warning signs and know one’s risk factors so that health complications like cervical cancer do not go ignored or untreated. Knowing the facts surrounding this disease can save lives.
With the right care and advice from healthcare professionals, a diagnosis does not have to be discouraging but instead can be seen as an opportunity for positive action against this serious condition.
Where can I find more information?
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cervical cancer, it’s important to find reliable information about the condition. There are resources available online and in printed materials.
The American Cancer Society website is a good place to start. Here you can find detailed information about cervical cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, treatment options, and more.
You can also find support and advice from other people who have been affected by cervical cancer.
Other websites that provide information about cervical cancer include the National Cancer Institute (use the search function) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your doctor or healthcare provider can also give you more information about the disease and direct you to additional resources.
Cervical Cancer 101 – What else can I do?
Considering the fact that I study health, diet, and natural remedies, I wondered, what more I could do for myself since I have been diagnosed?
And… there are more things we can do. Natural remedies, supplements, diet, and exercise are a part of care for this potentially devastating equation.
In general, natural remedies can be a great way to support your body as it fights cancer. Again, though, and this is important — be sure to do your research and talk to your doctor before starting any new regimen. Natural remedies, particularly herbs, vitamins, minerals and diet can conflict with traditional medical treatments.
As you probably know, whole foods are hugely important for maintaining health, and in protecting yourself from most diseases. One of the most important things you can do is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. This means eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limiting your intake of processed foods and red meat. (By the way, garlic is an excellent cancer-fighter.)
Exercise is also important, as it helps to keep your body strong and boosts your immune system.
There are a number of supplements that can be helpful in fighting cancer, and boosting our immune system, such as turmeric, and fish oil.
Tea is rich in cancer-fighting polyphenols, which can even slow the growth of already formed tumors.
In fact, there are many cancer-fighting natural remedies. Just don’t rely exclusively on them! Once again, when it comes to anything regarding your health, it’s always best to talk to, and be open to, what your doctor has to say.
From time to time, I plan to post progress reports about my diagnosis and eventual treatments for cervical cancer. Right now, I am about to go in for further tests to find out what stage I have (which I’m told doesn’t look good at this point), and then to talk about treatment. I’m hoping my efforts will help others who are going through anything like this as well. I was quite surprised that there isn’t more information from the patient’s experiences with this disease!
In the meantime, I’m praying you go get checked!