Cervical Cancer- Symptoms and Treatments

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Be Aware of the Early Signs-
During the early stages of cervical cancer there may not be any symptoms. However, there are some recognized symptoms associated with cervical cancer.
These include:
1. Abnormal bleeding: both during or after sexual intercourse, or between periods
2. Post menopausal bleeding, if not on HRT or have stopped it for six weeks or more
3. Unusual or foul smelling vaginal discharge
4. Discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse
5. Lower back pain.

As the cancer progresses it can cause increased frequency of urination, incontinence, blood in the urine, blood from the rectum, diarrhea and swelling in the legs.

The most common finding in patients with cervical cancer is an abnormal PAP test result. Cervical cancer can be confirmed by taking a biopsy from the cervix.

If a very small cancer is seen enclosed by normal cells no further treatment is required as the cancerous part has already been removed. Follow up biopsies may however be recommended to keep a check on new growths.

Treat it before it gets late!
The treatment of cervical cancer depends on several factors, including the type and stage of cancer, and the woman’s overall health.  Surgery for the removal of the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue may be recommended. The following  procedures are often used:

Conization is used to remove micro-invasive cervical cancer. LEEP can also be used. An electrical current passed through a thin wire hook. The hook removes the abnormal tissue.

A hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and cervix. A simple hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus and cervix. A radical hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus, cervix, upper vagina, and the tissue around the cervix. It also includes an extensive pelvic lymph node dissection, which means the removal of the lymph nodes.

If needed, surgery may include a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. This is the removal of both Fallopian tubes and both ovaries. It is done at the same time as the hysterectomy.

Radical trachelectomy is surgery to remove the cervix that leaves the uterus intact with pelvic lymph node dissection. It may be used for young patients who want to preserve their fertility.

For cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix, exteneration, that is removal of the uterus, vagina, lower colon, rectum, or bladder can be carried out. It is done for some patients with a recurrence of cancer after radiation treatment.

Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays or other particles to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be given alone, before surgery, or instead of surgery to shrink the tumour, or a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be given.

The most common type of radiation treatment is called external-beam radiation therapy. Radiation is given from outside the body targeting the cancer cells and sparing healthy tissues.  Internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy uses radioactive implants placed inside the body next to the cancerous cells or mass.

Chemotherapy is the use of certain medications that destroy cancer cells. This is usually by affecting the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. Systemic chemotherapy is when the medication is given either orally or intravenously. The drug enters the blood stream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. A patient may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.

Cervical cancer is often treated with chemotherapy along with radiation therapy. The goal of chemotherapy when given with radiation therapy is to increase the effectiveness of the radiation treatment. It can also be given to destroy cancer that is remaining after surgery, also called adjuvant therapy, or treat cervical cancer it has come back. The addition of bevacizumab (Avastin) to combination chemotherapy in patients with later stages of cervical cancer shows improvement in outcome.

Cancer and support care-
Cancer and its treatment often cause side effects. An important part of cancer care is relieving a woman’s symptoms and side effects. This approach is called palliative or supportive care, and it includes supporting the patient with her physical, emotional and social needs.

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