Fighting Cervical Cancer: Understanding Your Treatment Options
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus connecting to the vagina. According to the American Cancer Society, there are two types of cervical cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Cervical cancer is often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and is the fourth most common cancer in women worldwide.
In this article, we will discuss the stages of cervical cancer and the available treatment options.
Cervical Cancer Screening
Most cervical cancers are found through screenings to check for pre-cancerous cells, also known as pre-invasive lesions or dysplasia. These screening tests include:
Pap test: A procedure that collects cells from the cervix to examine them for changes that may indicate the development of cancer.
HPV test: A test that detects the presence of high-risk HPV infection in the cervical cells.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
The stage of cervical cancer determines the extent and spread of the cancer, which is critical in deciding on the most appropriate treatment. The following are the stages of cervical cancer:
Cervical Cancer Stage 0: Pre-cancer
Cervical Cancer Stage I: Cancer has spread from the cervix lining into deeper tissue but is still only found in the uterus. It has not spread to other parts of the body.
Cervical Cancer Stage II: Cancer has spread beyond the uterus to nearby areas such as the vagina or tissue near the cervix but is still inside the pelvic area. It has not spread to other parts of the body.
Cervical Cancer Stage III: The tumor involves the lower part of the vagina and may have spread to the pelvic wall and nearby lymph nodes. It may also cause kidney swelling (called hydronephrosis) and kidney dysfunction.
Cervical Cancer Stage IV: Cancer has spread to the bladder or rectum or to other parts of the body beyond the pelvis.
Cervical Cancer Treatment Options
The treatment options for cervical cancer depend on the stage of cancer, overall health, and other factors. Here are some of the options:
Surgery is a common treatment for early-stage cervical cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tissue and any surrounding areas that may be affected.
There are different types of surgery available, depending on the size and stage of the cancer, as well as the patient's goals for future pregnancy.
Cone biopsy: This involves removing a cone-shaped piece of cervical tissue while leaving the rest of the cervix intact. This may be an option for women who want to consider becoming pregnant in the future.
Trachelectomy: This removes the cervix and some surrounding tissue, but the uterus remains, making it possible for women to become pregnant after the procedure.
Hysterectomy: This involves removing the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina, and nearby lymph nodes. While it can cure early-stage cervical cancer and prevent a recurrence, it makes it impossible to become pregnant.
High-energy beams are used to treat cervical cancer by killing cancer cells. It can be used alone or in combination with chemotherapy as the primary treatment for locally advanced cervical cancers. There are two main types of radiation therapy:
External beam radiation therapy: This directs a radiation beam at the affected area of the body.
Brachytherapy: This involves placing a device filled with radioactive material inside the vagina for a few minutes.
Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. It may be combined with radiation therapy for locally advanced cervical cancer or used alone to help control symptoms of very advanced cancer. Chemotherapy can be given through a vein or taken in pill form.
Recovery and Follow-Up Care
It is essential to have regular follow-up care with your healthcare provider to monitor your progress and watch for any signs of recurrent cervical cancer, especially for women with invasive cervical cancer.
Your healthcare provider will schedule regular check-ups, which may include imaging tests and physical exams.
In some cases, treatment for cervical cancer may affect fertility or sexual function. It's important to discuss any concerns or questions you may have about these issues with your healthcare provider.
Cervical Cancer Prevention and Risk Factors
The National Cancer Institute recommends the following to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer:
Regular cervical cancer screening tests
Getting the HPV vaccine to avoid an HPV infection
Practising safe sex by using condoms
It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle, including a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. These lifestyle choices can help improve overall health and reduce the risk of cervical cancer.
Early detection and proper treatment of cervical cancer are crucial for better survival rates. Regular cervical cancer screening tests and HPV vaccination can help prevent cervical cancer.
If you are diagnosed with cervical cancer, work closely with your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment options for your stage of cancer.
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