Forming in tissues of the cervix – the organ that connects the uterus and vagina – this slow-growing cancer is not thought to be hereditary and as a rule it may or may not have symptoms.
Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by a persistent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection which causes changes to the cervical cells. 4 out of 5 women area thought to be exposed to HPV, which is an extremely common virus. Generally, most people don’t even know they have contracted the virus at all. For instance, anyone who is sexually active can be infected with HPV at some time although the body’s immune system will usually clear it up.
Persistent HPV infection can cause cervical abnormalities. Usually, abnormal cells found through cervical screening – a procedure whereby cells are taken from the cervix and looked at under a microscope – are not cancerous but given enough time they may go on to develop into cancer. Sometimes the cells revert to normal on their own. The 2010-11 NHS National Screening Programmes 2010-11 indicated that between 7-9% of women had abnormal cells, of which only a small percentage will progress to the cancerous stage.
Regular cervical screening is the most effective method of preventing cervical cancer as it enables detection of any early changes of the cervix. The HPV vaccination can help prevent 70% of cervical cancers in younger women. Cervical cancer is largely preventable and survival rates are high if it is detected early.
The symptoms of cervical cancer are not always obvious and it may not cause any symptoms at all until it has reached an advanced stage. For this reason, it is extremely important that all women regularly have cervical smear tests.
The most common symptom caused by cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, particularly between periods or after sexual intercourse. In women who have stopped having periods, there may be new bleeding.
- These may include a smelly vaginal discharge such as oozing pus
- Experiencing discomfort when having sex.
Visit your GP or healthcare professional should you experience any abnormal bleeding or either of the other symptoms mentioned above.
Your doctor usually removes the tumour through your vagina. Some doctors may make a cut (an incision) in the tummy (abdomen) to do the operation instead.
Your doctor removes most of the cervix, but leaves behind the internal opening. They stitch this tight, leaving a small opening to allow blood to escape during your period. The stitch is strong enough to support a growing baby in the future. The baby would be born by cesarean section.
The primary source for some of the content of this article, which was written some years ago, was Cancer Research UK. To read their latest detailed research findings, we strongly recommend that you access their web site page, just click on the link below:
then click on Cervical Cancer.