Cervical cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. This usually is a slow process which develops over years starting with precancerous changes in the cervical cells.
Causes of cervical cancer?
Most cervical cancer is caused by a persistent infection by one or more of the high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly HPV types 16 and 18. While most people with HPV will clear or suppress the infection without an issue, some infections persist and can lead to precancerous changes that progress to cancer over time. Smoking and immune problems (such as HIV/AIDs or immunosuppression medications) increase the risk of developing this type of cancer.
Symptoms of cervical cancer?
Typically, there are no symptoms in the early stages, which is why regular screenings, such as Pap smears and HPV testing, are crucial for early detection. As the cancer progresses, some people may experience vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain or pain with sex.
Treatments for cervical cancer?
Prevention is the most important tool we have against cervical cancer. Regular Pap smears are recommended for people with a cervix to detect abnormal cell changes before they develop into cervical cancer. Often a small procedure to remove precancerous cells is all that is needed to prevent progression. Additionally, the HPV vaccine is a very effective preventive measure to reduce the risk of cervical cancer, especially when administered before the onset of sexual activity. The HPV vaccine is now recommended in females up to 45 years old, but has little harm at ages above that as well.
Once cervical cancer develops, the treatment varies greatly depending on the stage of the disease, how far it has spread, desire for childbearing in the future and overall health. Treatment can include a mix of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, as well as some target and immunotherapy options.
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