Cancer of the Cervix – General Information

Cancer of the cervix

The cervix is the lower-most part of the uterus (womb). It is the part that protrudes into the top of the vagina, and it connects the uterus to the vagina. The function of the cervix is to act as a relative barrier between the outside world and the cavity of the uterus.

Cancer of the cervix is probably the most preventable of all cancers that occur in women. This cancer grows slowly and goes through a pre-cancerous phase which may last for several years before cancer actually develops. This pre-cancerous phase is best diagnosed by a Pap smear, which is designed to pick up the presence of pre-cancerous cells developing on the cervix.

Anatomy

cervix_anatomy

The cervix is the lower-most part of the uterus. The Uterus is the pear shaped organ in the pelvis, at the top of the vagina, in which a baby grows. It is the part that protrudes into the top of the vagina(G), and it connects the uterus to the vagina. The function of the cervix is to act as a barrier between the outside world and the cavity of the uterus.

What Is Cancer of the Cervix?

Essentially, cancer of the cervix can only exist in women who have been sexually active. The more sexual partners a woman has had, and the more partners that their partners have had, the greater is her risk of developing cervical cancer. Any woman who has become sexually active should undertake regular Pap smear testing every two years. Queensland now has a Pap Smear Register to remind women when they are due for their next smear, and to allow doctors to compare current and previous test results.

Human Papilloma Virus

Human Papilloma Virus (also known as wart virus) is thought to be the primary (70%) and most important causal factor in the development of cancer of the cervix. There are about 60 different subtypes of the wart virus infection. Only 10 of these carry a high risk of developing into cervical cancer. Please ask your doctor if you have any concerns.

Symptoms

Early stages of cervical cancer are usually without symptoms, although if symptoms do occur, post-coital bleeding (bleeding after intercourse) is one of the more common. Any woman who has noticed bleeding from the vagina after sexual intercourse or has noticed a blood stained discharge from the vagina, not related to menstruation (periods), should see her family doctor without delay.

Causes

Studying the Causes

The study of the occurrence and the causes of disease in the population is called Epidemiology. An epidemiologist studies how common a specified disease is, who is affected by it, and what are the factors that are associated with developing that disease, as well as studies aimed at controlling the disease.

Types Of Cervical Cancer

Cancer of the cervix is most often of the squamous cell type, with a small number being of the type known as adenocarcinoma.

Factors That Increase Risk

Age

  • The risk of developing cancer of the cervix increases after about 20 to 35 years of age, and then gradually increases as a woman ages.

Geographic Location

  • Women in Latin America, Asia and Africa have higher rates of cervical cancer than women in other countries.

Income And Education

  • Women with lower levels of income and education tend to have higher rates of cancer of the cervix

Sexual Patterns

  • Women who have had a high number of sexual partners in their lifetime are at greater risk of developing cancer of the cervix than women with very few or no partners.

Viral Exposure

  • Certain types of a virus known as the human papilloma virus (HPV) are associated with a large proportion of cervical cancers.
  • Presence of HPV in cervical tissue has been linked to sexual factors.

High Number Of Children

  • The risk of cervical cancer is greater in women with a high number of children.

Oral Contraceptives

  • Long term use of the oral contraceptive pill has been associated with cancer of the cervix.
  • This is a casual rather than causal relationship, as the use of oral contraceptives often means that no barrier contraceptives are used (for example condoms). This in turn increases a woman’s risk of contracting the wart virus (HPV), which is a cause of cancer of the cervix.

Smoking

  • There is evidence that a woman who has smoked for many years increases her chance of developing cancer of the cervix.

Factors That Decrease Risk

Hysterectomy

  • Women who have had a hysterectomy with removal of the cervix do not develop cervical cancer.

Screening By Pap Smears

  • Having regular Pap smears between the ages of 20 and 65 years lowers the risk of developing advanced squamous cell cancer of the cervix by detecting abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix before they become invasive.
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