WHAT IS CERVICAL CANCER?
HPV causes approximately 99% of all cervical cancer cases3,4. Most HPV infections can clear on their own. However, when a female is infected with HPV and the virus doesn’t go away on its own, abnormal cells can develop in the cervix. If left untreated, these cells may develop into cervical cancer22.
Cervical cancer usually doesn’t produce symptoms23. Most women with early cervical cancers don’t know they have it until the cancer becomes aggressive and spreads into other tissue22. When this happens, some of these signs may begin to show23:
- Bleeding between or following menstrual periods
- Bleeding during or after sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
- Unusual vaginal discharge that is watery, bloody and foul-smelling
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Pain in the lower abdomen
- Unexplained change in menstrual cycle
Staging is the common word used to describe where cancer is located or where it has spread and if it has affected other parts of the body24. Cervical cancer is staged using the TNM system25:
T (tumor): This describes the size of the original tumor.
N (node): This indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
Once the T, N and M scores have been determined, an overall cervical cancer stage is assigned.
As a general rule of thumb, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage 4, means a more advanced cancer. Cervical cancer stages can be broken down as below:
|Stage 1||The cancer is limited to the cervix and has not spread to other parts of the body25.|
|Stage 2||The cancer is no longer limited to the cervix and uterus but has not reached the walls of the pelvis or the lower part of the vagina24.|
|Stage 3||The cancer has spread to the lower part of the vagina or the walls of the pelvis but not to distant sites. It may or may not affect the nearby lymph nodes26.|
|Stage 4||The cancer has spread to other nearby organs such as the bladder or rectum or other parts of the body such as the lungs or liver24.|
Prior to Stage 1, there is also Stage 0 which is sometimes referred to as the pre-cancer stage. Pre-cancer is the stage where abnormal cells are detected on the surface of the cervix but have not moved to deeper layers of cells27. During this stage, various treatment options are available and have been proven effective in eliminating the cancerous cells27.
The HPV vaccine helps protect you against some HPV types that are most likely to cause cervical cancer22.
Pap Smear Screening
A simple Pap smear every three years17, depending on your doctor’s recommendation, can easily help you avoid devastating HPV-related cancers and diseases.
Condoms can reduce your chances of getting HPV, but they don’t protect you completely since some areas of the skin remained uncovered and are susceptible to infection28.
HPV DNA Testing29
A HPV DNA test can be conducted for high-risk HPV types that are most likely to cause cervical cancer by looking for pieces of DNA in cervical cells. This test can be done together with a Pap smear or by itself.