Cervical cancer is the second most common women’s cancer in the world. It affects about half a million women each year. Here’s what you need to know about this disease…
Every day, three Malaysian women will discover that they have cervical cancer and about half of them will succumb to this deadly disease. So if you’re a woman reading this, here’s an important question for you: are you aware of what cervical cancer is all about? If you’re a man, have you made sure that your wife, mother, sister and all the women in your life, know what they need to know about it? Read on to find about cervical cancer and how you can prevent this disease.
What is cervical cancer?
The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system. It is a narrow passageway, which connects the vagina to the uterus. The cervix produces mucous which allows sperms to travel to the uterus and it also helps keep the baby in the uterus during pregnancy by remaining tightly closed. It opens up during childbirth.
Cervical cancer occurs when cells in your cervix grow abnormally. When growth is normal, cells grow and divide to form new cells. When they are damaged or old, these cells die and are replaced with new ones. Abnormal cell growth happens when the body does not discard old or damaged cells and when unnecessary new cells are produced. This is generally what leads to a growths or tumours appearing on your cervix.
Cervical cancer begins in cells on the surface of the cervix. However, if left undetected and untreated, the cancerous cells will invade deeper into the cervix and this can affect other tissues in your body.
Do I have it?
During the early stages of cervical cancer, you might not experience any symptoms. In fact, this is the reason why regular pap smears (a screening test which can detect changes in your cervical cells) is vital as it may be able to detect pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in your cervix.
However, you may experience some of these symptoms if your cervical cells change to become a cancerous growth or tumour. These symptoms include:
- Pain in the lower belly
- Bleeding from the vagina, in between your menstrual period or after menopause
- Abnormal vaginal discharge accompanied by a foul smell
- Pain during sexual intercourse
If you experience the symptoms above, be sure to consult your doctor as it may be a symptom of cervical cancer or other health issues.
How do I prevent it?
Firstly, regular pelvic examinations and pap smears are essential as early detection of cervical cancer can save your life. As a general guide, pap smears should be conducted, after a woman is sexually active. The frequency of this test depends very much on the individual, so be sure to ask your doctor on how often you should have one.
You should also ask your doctor about vaccination against HPV. A virus called human papillomavirus (HPV) is a possible cause of cervical cancer. HPV can be transmitted through sexual contact. However, you should note that there are many types of HPV and not all of them cause cervical cancer. Instead, some may cause other diseases such as genital warts or you may not have any symptoms at all (turn to page 32 for an in depth exploration of HPV).
What increases my risk?
A risk factor for cervical cancer is something that may increase your chances of getting this cancer. Some of the risk factors include:
- Having a HPV infection. Most HPV infections disappear naturally. However, when they do not, it can result in a more severe infection that can lead to cervical cancer.
- Smoking. This unhealthy lifestyle habit is not only a risk factor for cervical cancer but for any other type of cancer as well. Smoking exposes you to chemicals which can damage your cells and lead to cancer.
- High-risk sexual behaviour. Women who are not in a monogamous sexual relationship may be at a higher risk when it comes to being infected with HPV. Practicing safe sex which includes wearing a condom during sexual intercourse and being in a monogamous relationship, can decrease your risk of cervical cancer.
Aside from that, practicing a healthy lifestyle such as exercising regularly, indulging in healthy meals and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of cervical cancer.
What are the treatments available?
If you have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, there are several treatment options available, which your doctor will discuss with you. Your treatment options depend very much on the stage of the cancer and if the cancer has affected other tissues in your body. Your doctor may advise you to go for a combination of these methods, if needed.
The three main treatment options available are:
- Radiation Therapy
Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer affecting Malaysian women and it is believed to be more common among younger women. Remember, early detection and treatment of cervical cancer is important as it greatly increases your chances of enjoying a full recovery.
(n.d.). In Power Over Cervical Cancer. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.pocc.com.my/
Cervical Cancer (2014, October 7). In MedicineNet.com. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/page6.htm#treatment
Cervical Cancer-What increases your risk (2012, October 22). In WebMD. Retrieved October 27, 2014, from http://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-cancer-what-increases-your-risk