Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus connecting to the vagina. It is a significant global health concern, but with advancements in medical science, early detection, and appropriate treatment, the prognosis has improved significantly. Learn about how cervical cancer is detected, the importance of screening, symptoms to watch for, and available treatment options.
Detection and screening
Early detection plays a crucial role in the successful treatment of cervical cancer. The primary method for detecting cervical cancer is through regular screening tests. The most common screening test is the Pap smear, which involves collecting cells from the cervix and examining them under a microscope for abnormalities. Another screening method is the HPV (human papillomavirus) test, which checks for the presence of the virus that can cause cervical cancer.
It is recommended that women start regular cervical cancer screenings around the age of 21 or within three years of becoming sexually active, whichever comes first. The frequency of screenings may vary depending on age, risk factors, and previous screening results. It’s essential for women to discuss the appropriate screening schedule with their healthcare providers.
Watching for symptoms
While regular screenings are essential, it’s equally important for women to be aware of potential symptoms that may indicate cervical cancer. Symptoms can include:
- Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding: This includes bleeding between periods, after sexual intercourse, or after menopause.
- Pelvic Pain or Pain During Intercourse: Persistent pain in the pelvic area, especially during sexual activity, could be a symptom of cervical cancer.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Rapid and unexplained weight loss may be an indication of various health issues, including cervical cancer.
- Changes in Urination or Bowel Habits: Cervical cancer can sometimes affect the bladder and rectum, leading to changes in urinary or bowel habits.
- Fatigue: Persistent fatigue unrelated to other factors should be addressed with a healthcare professional.
If cervical cancer is diagnosed, treatment options will depend on the stage of cancer, overall health, and individual preferences. Common treatment modalities include:
- Surgery: Surgical procedures may involve removing the cancerous tissue (cone biopsy) or, in more advanced cases, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus).
- Radiation: High-energy rays are used to target and destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: Drugs are administered to kill cancer cells or stop their growth.
- Targeted therapy: This approach targets specific molecules involved in cancer growth, limiting damage to healthy cells.
- Immunotherapy: Enhancing the body’s immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
“Cervical cancer is a serious health issue, but regular screenings, awareness of symptoms, and advances in medical treatments have significantly improved outcomes,” explains Dr. Alisha Lindberg, obstetrician/gynecologist at Riverwood Healthcare Center. “Women should prioritize regular check-ups, discuss their screening schedule with their healthcare providers, and promptly address any unusual symptoms. Early detection remains the key to successful treatment, making it crucial for women to take an active role in their cervical health.”
For a gynecology appointment or any women’s health concerns, call Riverwood’s specialty clinic at 218-927-5566.