What You Should Know About Diagnosing and Treating Cervical Cancer

May 7th 2016

The most important tool in diagnosing and treating cervical cancer is regular screening, even for women with low risk. Early detection and intervention are key for successful treatment.

Prevention Is Key

Most cases of cervical cancer in the United States are tied to human papillomavirus infection. HPV, colloquially referred to as genital warts, is relatively benign for most people. Some people with HPV do not even know they have it. Only a few common strains are linked to cervical cancer, but there is a vaccination against those strains. It works best when given before the person becomes sexually active or before age 26.

Regardless of your vaccination status, Pap smears are one of the most important tools in preventing cervical cancer. This simple procedure involves scraping some cells from your cervix to check for any abnormalities. The recommend frequency can vary depending on your risk, so consult your doctor. However, an exam every one to three years is normal. Pap smears are the most effective way of detecting cervical cancer early enough to treat it successfully.

Subtle Symptoms

Cervical cancer usually has few or no symptoms in the early stages, which is why early screening is important. However, in more advanced stages, it can cause unusual bleeding. This can include bleeding after sexual intercourse or abnormal spotting, and it is especially concerning in postmenopausal women. Some women also experience unusually heavy discharge.

Some women also feel unexplained pain due to cervical cancer. This usually occurs during or immediately after intercourse, but it can happen at any time and may spread to the lower abdomen. These symptoms can also be signs of infections or other problems, so women experiencing them should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Diagnosis

The actual diagnosis of cervical cancer can take many forms. One of the most basic procedures after a Pap smear is a colposcopy, in which the doctor inserts a tiny camera into the vagina to examine the cervix directly. If abnormal cells are found, the doctor may order blood tests, biopsies and other diagnostic tests to determine how far the cancer has spread. In some cases, X-rays and other imaging tests may be needed.

Treatment

The treatment for cervical cancer depends on the stage it has reached. If the cancer is caught early, chemotherapy or radiation therapy may be enough to treat it. Some women with cervical cancer need hysterectomies or other surgeries. These are generally treated as a last resort, especially in younger patients, because they can lead to early menopause and prevent women from being able to have children.

Conclusion

Cervical cancer is fairly rare, but it can also be deadly. It has few symptoms until later stages, which often delays treatment. Understanding the ways cervical cancer is diagnosed and how it is treated is important to staying safe.

Sources

Cancer.gov "Cervical cancer treatment (PDQ
Cancer.org "How is cervical cancer diagnosed?" http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervicalcancer/detailedguide/cervical-cancer-diagnosis
WebMD.com "Cervical cancer--topic overview" http://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-cancer-topic-overview?page=2
CDC.gov "How is cervical cancer diagnosed and treated?" http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/cervical/basic_info/diagnosis_treatment.htm

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