Cervical Cancer Vs Ovarian Cancer: Understanding The Difference
No, it's not a competition, but because of certain similarities and differences between cervical cancer and ovarian cancer, it is crucial to understand the science behind both.
Let's find out first about the common definitions of both types of cancers individually, their causes, locations, and common signs and symptoms. Additionally, you may also want to find out about Cervical Cancer: Myths & Facts.
Cervical cancer-location and causes
The cervix is located in the lower, narrow part of a woman's womb and sits itself in the bottom of the abdomen right next to the bladder. Almost all cervical cancers are caused due to the HPV (human papilloma virus) infection.
The most common types of cervical cancer are adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. This virus after persisting in the body for a long time eventually causes a molecular change at DNA level making the cervix cells grow at an uncontrolled rate. It is for the same reason that the National Health Service (NHS) developed an HPV vaccine back in 2008 and offered to girls of 12-13 years age.
Decoding the HPV vaccine
Nowadays, the HPV vaccine is offered to both girls and boys aged 12 and 13.
- This vaccine helps you protect against 4 different HPV types, which includes those responsible for causing more than 7 in 10 cervical cancers.
- Even though it reduces the risk of getting the cervical cancer, it is still important to get screened regularly according to different age groups. The reason being that it doesn't protect you against every HPV type, and because some HPV types takes years before showing any symptoms, it might get too late.
As a rule of thumb, ladies please go to your cervical screening rounds when invited. Moreover, it's very important to know that HPV being a common virus is readily spread such as via normal skin-to-skin contact. One could become infected by just having one sexual partner despite a well-known myth that having the virus is a stamp of having multiple sexual partners.
At some point of their lifetimes around 85% women will have HPV. However, most of the times our immune system doesn't even bother to kill and deactivate it within a period of 2 years4.
Signs and symptoms
Let's know some signs and symptoms of cervical cancer.
You may have guessed it correctly that as the cervix is in close proximity to the womb, there may be some bleeding. Well, abnormal bleeding is often associated with cervical cancer and we have to be aware and keep report of some things like bleeding between periods, during or after sex and after menopause as well.
Such abnormal bleeding can also be due to some hormonal changes, but it's never too late to get it checked by the doctor anyways just to be sure right? Additionally, some other signs and symptoms to look after carefully are pain in the pelvis, during sex or a sudden unpleasant, heavy discharge.
Ovarian cancer: location and causes
Coming to the next opponent in this piece is the ovarian cancer. Ovaries are also located in the lower part of the abdomen, underneath the belly button. They are present in a set of two oval shaped objects of 3-5cm during the childbearing years. They also get smaller in size after the menopause. Similar to a bunch of 2 large grapes, both are attached to the womb via the Fallopian tubes (tubes that carry male sperms that helps you make babies).
The most common types of ovarian cancers are epithelial, stromal and germ cell tumors. To this date, there are no clear causes reported for the ovarian cancer. Some factors majorly discussed are older age, which puts women at a significantly higher risk of developing it. Some lifestyle factors such as smoking, being overweight or obese, and post-menopausal hormones are causes of 1 in 10 of ovarian cancers reported.
There are also some genetic mutation causes reported- such as faulty changes in some genes which makes a woman more prone to develop the cancer. An important takeaway here is that if somebody has a familial history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to consult your doctor about genetic counselling or getting it tested.
Signs and symptoms
Let's discuss some signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer.
- One crucial sign to know here is the position of your ovaries. Now, you cannot know about that, right? Well, you're absolutely correct as we're not some microscopes. If somebody for instance does have ovarian cancer, then they may feel persistently and uncomfortably bloated.
- Felling full every time quickly after eating something is also a possible sign. Loss of appetite, pain in the tummy and the urge to pee often and frequent bowel movement changes can also be potential signs. Hence, it's very important to get it checked by your doctor to know their underlying reasons and be sure about it.
- A tip of advice from many doctors and many other women indicate that it may not be easy to talk about some of our body parts. But it's really important to give it a try and be open and honest if you feel something's not right.
It is often seen that when such signs are caught early, the treatment outcomes are much more positive.
Which is worse: Cervical cancer or Ovarian cancer?
Among both these and other cancers in women, ovarian cancer has been reported to be the one with the lowest survival rate. Reports also suggests that a mere 44% of women will be alive after the diagnosis.
Cervical cancer, on the other hand, has a much better survival rate of 72%. Now you can see why it's so important to be aware of any unusual signs and body changes that don't feel right and reporting it to the doctors and getting tested.
Can cervical cancer lead to ovarian cancer & vice versa?
The answer to that question is not clear yet, but reports suggest that there may be a rare chance (0.6-1.5% chances of occurrence) of getting an ovarian cancer following cervical cancer. The reason for such chances is not well known and warrants further studies to come up with a valid answer.
By now you would have seen how despite being very close to each other, is actually different. So, it is really important to know these differences and visit your doctor should any such symptoms develop. After all, it is critical to practice self care tips for wellbeing. Remember, prevention is better than cure.
Did you like our Article?
- Cohen, P. A., Jhingran, A., Oaknin, A., & Denny, L. (2019). Cervical cancer. The Lancet, 393(10167), 169-182.
- Kyrgiou, M., & Shafi, M. I. (2009). HPV vaccine. Obstetrics, Gynaecology & Reproductive Medicine, 19(1), 26-28.
- Harper, D. M., & DeMars, L. R. (2017). HPV vaccines-a review of the first decade. Gynecologic oncology, 146(1), 196-204.
- Okunade, K. S. (2020). Human papillomavirus and cervical cancer. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 40(5), 602-608.
- Stewart, C., Ralyea, C., & Lockwood, S. (2019, April). Ovarian cancer: an integrated review. In Seminars in oncology nursing (Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 151-156). WB Saunders.
- Elezaby, M., Lees, B., Maturen, K. E., Barroilhet, L., Wisinski, K. B., Schrager, S., ... & Sadowski, E. (2019). BRCA mutation carriers: breast and ovarian cancer screening guidelines and imaging considerations. Radiology, 291(3), 554-569.
- Tan, J. H., Sharpe, L., & Russell, H. (2021). The impact of ovarian cancer on individuals and their caregivers: a qualitative analysis. Psycho‐Oncology, 30(2), 212-220.
- Torre, L. A., Trabert, B., DeSantis, C. E., Miller, K. D., Samimi, G., Runowicz, C. D., ... & Siegel, R. L. (2018). Ovarian cancer statistics, 2018. CA: a cancer journal for clinicians, 68(4), 284-296.
- Landoni, F., Colombo, A., Milani, R., Placa, F., Zanagnolo, V., & Mangioni, C. (2017). Randomized study between radical surgery and radiotherapy for the treatment of stage IB-IIA cervical cancer: 20-year update. Journal of gynecologic oncology, 28(3).
- Kuria, M., Gitau, S., & Warfa, K. (2018). Cervical cancer with bilateral ovarian metastases: case report and review of literature. BJR| case reports, 4(4), 20180047.