According to the NHS, almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV)—an infection that can be transmitted through any type of sexual contact. There are various existing strains of HPV, some of them are harmless, but others can dramatically affect and change the cells of the cervix. Though these types of infection can be commonplace, most don’t have any symptoms—which makes frequent check-ups vital. According to NHS Choices, all women are at risk of developing this kind of cancer.
According to Check4Cancer, there are a number of lifestyle changes women can make to decrease their risk of developing cervical cancer. Smoking, the leading causes of lung cancer, can also lead to cervical cancer—if a woman has already contracted HPV. In fact, women who smoke and have HPV are twice as likely to have pre-cancerous cells in the cervix. A weak immune system can increase a woman’s chances of developing cervical cancer; women with HIV/AIDS have a six-fold increased risk of the disease. A risk factor that cannot be controlled, on the other hand, is family history. Women who have a first-degree relative who has had cervical cancer are also at a higher risk of developing the disease.
Treating cervical cancer
Treatment will largely depend on how early the disease is detected—the stage at which it is diagnosed will dramatically impact a woman’s outlook. Some serious cases might require a hysterectomy, while others may need radiotherapy; advanced cases are usually treated using a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Some treatments may cause significant side effects like menopause and infertility.
What are the symptoms?
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding. This most commonly occurs after sex but can also occur between periods. If you are a post-menopausal woman, cervical cancer can cause vaginal bleeding.
- Smelly vaginal discharge. This may contain blood and occur between periods.
- Pain or discomfort. This happens most commonly during sex.
- Pelvic or lower back pain. This often accompanies the other symptoms.
With frequent screenings, cell changes in the cervix can be easily detected at the earliest stages. The health service offers cervical screening to women from the age of 25. During these check-ups, cells are taken from the cervix and analysed for abnormalities. Although screening is important, as many as one million women in England have never undergone this test, and an additional million are more than one year late for their next test—some deem the visit uncomfortable, embarrassing and rarely even painful.
HPV: Now The Good News