Cancer of the cervix begins when cancerous cells grow and multiply on the surface of the cervix. The cervix is the donut-shaped structure that makes up the lower part of a woman’s uterus (womb) and connects the uterus to the vagina (the birth canal).
The two types of cervical cancer include squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas.
Cervical Cancer Causes
While not a specific cause for cervical cancer, being infected with human papillomavirus (HPV) is a main risk factor of the condition. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection.
All women are at risk for developing cervical cancer, but other risk factors include:
- Irregular screening history – Women who do not regularly undergo a Pap test (also known as a Pap smear) have a higher risk for cervical cancer.
- Age – Cervical cancer occurs most commonly among women over 30.
- Sexual history – Women who have had many sexual partners and women who first began having sex before the age of 16 have a higher risk for contracting HPV and developing cervical cancer.
- Smoking – Cigarette smoking is linked to an increased risk for cancer of the cervix.
Women can help prevent cervical cancer with regular screenings, Pap tests and HPV tests. Current recommendations are for premenopausal women to have a Pap test every three years and an HPV test every five years.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Cervical cancer may not cause a women pain or other symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms do appear, cancerous cells have typically invaded nearby tissue. Women may experience:
- Heavy menstrual periods that last longer than normal
- Heavy, odorous vaginal discharge that is bloody or watery
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after intercourse or exercise, between periods or after menopause
Other symptoms of cervical cancer can include:
- Painful urination
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- A painful or bloody rectum during bowel movements
- Swelling in the legs
- A dull backache
Diagnosing Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is typically diagnosed and staged via:
- Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- Computed tomography (CT) scans
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- CT-guided biopsy
Treatments for Cervical Cancer
The cervical cancer specialists at Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute treat patients depending on the kind of cancer that is present and how far it has spread. Treatments can include a combination of:
- Radiation therapy
- Chemotherapy, including hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC)
In addition, cervical cancer patients treated at TGH may be eligible for clinical trials and have access to state-of-the-art treatments.