Is Cervical Cancer Curable?
Cervical cancer is still known to be a leading cause of death in women of developing nations. One of the reasons for that could be the lack of awareness about the disease. The good news is that, there are now different treatment options available to successfully manage cervical cancer if detected early.
Before we learn about the diagnosis and treatment, let's quickly walk you through some FAQs about cervical cancer.
What is cancer of the cervix?
Cervical cancer occurs when the cells of the cervix begin to multiply abnormally. Cervix is a part that acts as a connection between a woman's vagina and the lower part of her womb (uterus).
At what age does cervical cancer occur?
Generally, cervical cancer affects young women who are in an age group ranging from mid-thirties to mid-forties. Women younger than 20 are very rarely affected.
What is the primary cause of cervical cancer?
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease-causing virus, is considered to be the most common cause of cervical cancer. That does not mean that every woman with an HPV infection will eventually end up with cervical cancer. In most cases, the body's immune system fights off the virus. Only a few cases of persistent HPV infection cause cervical cancer.
What are the other causes of cervical cancer besides the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)?
Other causes of cervical cancer are:
- Weak immunity: Individuals like those who have AIDS or have been under corticosteroids treatment for a very long time have a low immune response. Hence, the risk of cervical cancer is higher in them.
- Smoking: Smoking doubles the risk of developing cancer of the cervix.
- Oral contraceptives: Cervical cancer is one of the side effects of prolonged use of oral contraceptives.
How is the diagnosis of cervical cancer done?
Most of the cervical cancer screening guidelines recommend beginning the screening tests by the age of 21. Here are a couple of tests that help in finding out whether you are at risk of developing cervical cancer or not.
1. Pap Test
You must have come across this term quite often. So, what is a Pap test exactly? In this test, your doctor scrapes out cells from your cervix and sends them to the lab for examination. The cells are tested to see if they are cancerous (have a tendency to multiply abnormally) or precancerous (at a higher risk of progressing into a cancer).
2. HPV Typing
This test is meant to identify the strains of HPV present in the cervix. HPV-16 and HPV-18 are the ones that are associated with a high risk of cervical cancer.
3. Pelvic Examination
Any unusual changes in the vagina, cervix, uterus, bladder, ovaries, or fallopian tube are looked for during this test.
In this test, a special magnifying instrument called a colposcope is used to view the cervix and determine if the cells are normal or not.
Biopsy, a procedure in which a tissue sample is collected from the cervix and sent to the lab for testing, is essential to make a definite diagnosis.
What are the ways of treating cervical cancer?
Listed below are the four principal treatment approaches that are used in managing cervical cancer. They can be used in combination with each other depending upon the severity of the case:
That part of the cervix that has turned cancerous is removed surgically. If the cancer cells have spread to the entire cervix, then the cervix will have to be removed. If cancer has spread to the neighboring organs such as the uterus, then both the cervix and uterus need to be removed.
2. Radiation Therapy
Cancer cells can be killed by using high-energy X-ray beams or radiation. The radiation therapy can be external, wherein the x-ray beams are delivered through a machine kept outside the body. Radiation can be delivered within the body also by keeping the radioactive device inside the vagina or uterus.
In this approach, drugs are used to eliminate cancer cells. These drugs can be delivered directly through the vein or can be given in pill form. Chemotherapy is given in cycles and an ample amount of time is allowed between two cycles for the body to recuperate. In some cases, mild doses of chemotherapy can be clubbed with radiation therapy to get optimum results.
4. Targeted Therapy
This approach works by attacking the weak points of the cancer cells like stopping the development of new blood vessels thereby, causing the cancer cells to die. Targeted therapy works well in combination with chemotherapy.
To wrap it up, it is worth mentioning that cervical cancer is preventable to some extent through a healthy lifestyle. It can easily be detected in a pre-cancer stage if screening tests are done regularly. For those of you living in the doubt- "Is cervical cancer curable if caught early?", the answer is a big YES! Treatment methods like surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy or a combination of any two of them can be used for optimum results. So, if you really love yourself and your cervix, book an appointment for a Pap test right away at your nearest women's health center.
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