The cervix is part of the female reproductive system. It is located between the uterus and the vagina.
Cervical cancer occurs when certain cervix cells become abnormal (cancerous). These cells multiply and form a mass called a tumour. The tumour can invade nearby organs or spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
Cervical cancer doesn't cause symptoms in the early stages of the disease. As the cancer grows, certain symptoms may appear.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding:
- Vaginal bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between periods
- Unusually long or heavy periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge that is:
- Foul smelling
- Pain during sex
- Difficulty urinating or having a bowel movement
- Back and leg pain
Causes and triggers
Cervical cancer is most often caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This infection is transmitted during sexual intercourse. The risk factors for contracting this infection and developing cervical cancer are as follows:
- Engaging in sexual intercourse at a young age
- Having multiple sexual partners
- Contracting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Having a weakened immune system
It's recommended that sexually active women be screened for cervical cancer on a regular basis. This makes it possible to detect abnormal cells (pre-cancerous and cancerous). Ask your health care provider if screening is recommended for you.
Cervical cancer treatment depends on the size of the mass involved, as well as the age and the general health of the patient. A person with cervical cancer may need to undergo the following treatments:
- Radiation therapy
To prevent cervical cancer:
- Get vaccinated against HPV
- Use a condom during sex
- Stop smoking
When should I see a health care professional?
Consult your health care provider if you notice abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.