Cervical Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatments


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Prevention of cervical cancer

There are a number of measures that can be taken to reduce the chances of developing cervical cancer.

HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine

The link between the development of cervical cancer and some types of HPV is clear. If every female adheres to current HPV vaccination programs, cervical cancer rates will be reduced substantially.

Safe sex

The HPV vaccine only protects against two HPV strains. There are others which can cause cervical cancer. Using a condom during sex helps protect from HPV infection.

Cervical screening

Regular cervical screening will make it much more likely that signs are picked up early and dealt with before cancer develops at all or too far.

Have fewer sexual partners

The more sexual partners a woman has, the higher the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Delay first sexual intercourse

The younger a female is when she has her first sexual intercourse, the higher the risk of developing cervical cancer. The longer she delays it, the lower her risk.

Do not smoke

People who smoke have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than people who do not.

Treatments for cervical cancer

Cervical cancer treatment options include surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or combinations. Deciding on the kind of treatment depends on several factors, such as the stage of the cancer, as well as the patient’s age and general state of health.

Treatment for early stage cervical cancer – cancer that is confined to the cervix – has a good success rate. The further the cancer has spread out of the area it originated from, the lower the success rate tends to be.

Early stage cancer treatment options

Surgery is commonly used when the cancer is confined to the cervix. Radiotherapy may be used after surgery if the doctor believes there may still be cancer cells inside the body.

Radiotherapy might also be used to reduce the risk of recurrence (cancer coming back). If the surgeon wants to shrink the tumor to make it easier to operate, the patient may receive chemotherapy – however, this is not very common.

Advanced cancer

When the cancer has spread beyond the cervix, surgery is not usually an option. Advanced cancer is also referred to as invasive cancer because it has invaded other areas. This type of cancer requires more extensive treatment. The patient will typically be treated with either radiotherapy or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

In the later stages of cancer, palliative therapy is administered to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.

Radiotherapy

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Radiotherapy is commonly used to treat advanced forms of cervical cancer. Around 40% of all cancer patients undergo some form of radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy is also known as radiation therapy, radiation oncology, and XRT. It involves the use of beams of high-energy X-rays or particles (radiation) to destroy cancer cells.

Radiation that is aimed in the pelvic area may cause the following side effects; some of them may not emerge until well after the treatment is over:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach
  • Bladder irritation
  • Narrowing of the vagina
  • Interrupted menstrual cycle
  • Early menopause

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals (medication) to treat any disease – in this context, it refers to the destruction of cancer cells. Cytotoxic medication prevents cancer cells from dividing and growing.

Chemotherapy for cervical cancer, as well as most other cancers, is used to target cancer cells that surgery cannot or did not remove, or to help the symptoms of patients with advanced cancer.

Cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug, is frequently used in combination with radiotherapy.

Side effects of chemotherapy can vary, and depend on the specific drug being used. Below is a list of the more common side effects:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Hair loss
  • Fatigue
  • Infertility
  • Early menopause

Clinical trials

For some patients, participating in a clinical trial may be their best treatment option. Many current treatments are the results of clinical trials. Clinical trials are an integral part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are carried out to determine how safe and effective new treatments are, and whether they are better than existing ones.

Clinical trial participants contribute to cancer research and innovation.

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