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What is cervical cancer?

Sunday, June 4th 2017. | Cervical Cancer

Cancer that originates in the cervix is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus which hangs in the vagina and connects the two. The outer surface of the cervix is lined by cells called squamous cells while the inside of the cervical canal is lined by glandular or interstitial cells. The outer lip of the cervix where these two types of cells meet is known as the T zone or transition zone. This is the area where cervical cancer is most likely to occur.

Cervical cancer begins when healthy cells undergo a change that causes them to turn into abnormal cells. Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don’t die. They can collect to form tumours. They can travel via the blood or lymphatic system to other parts of the body and invade the tissues there. This is called secondary carcinoma or metastasis.Symptoms of cervix cancer

There are two main types of cervical cancers depending upon the type of cells that they have originated from. These are:

Squamous cell carcinoma which begin in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) lining the outer part of the cervix. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.

Adenocarcinoma. This type of cervical cancer begins in the column-shaped glandular cells that line the cervical canal.

Sometimes, both types of cells are involved in cervical cancer.

The HPV virus or human papilloma virus is the cause of about 99% of cervical cancers. Most HPV viruses do not cause cervical cancer. These are called low risk viruses. High-risk HPV types may cause cervical cell abnormalities or cancer. Most cases of cervical cancer cases are because of the virus, HPV-16 and HPV-18, known as high-risk HPV types.

Most women will contract HPV infection once in their lifetime but not all will develop into cancer. The HPV infections do not last long and resolve on their own within 2 years. If the infection persists the woman is at greater risk of developing cervical cell abnormalities and cancer than a woman whose infection resolves on its own. The virus changes normal cervical cells into abnormal ones and over a long period of time (from several years to several decades), some of these abnormal cells may then develop into cervical cancer.

Other risk factors include unhealthy lifestyles, smoking, having sex at an early age, having many sexual partners, not using a condom, having other sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis etc. and having low immunity as in AIDS or for any other reason.

As the disease advances certain symptoms may develop. Symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain or bleeding during sex, or foul vaginal discharge. There may also be lower back pain and pelvic pain. In the later stages there may be increased urinary frequency and incontinence. There could also be rectal and urinary bleeding.Cervix Cancer


The early cervical cell changes and abnormalities do not cause any symptoms. However, as these are the precursors to cancer development regular screening through Pap and HPV tests can help catch cell changes early and prevent the development of cervical cancer.

As cancer takes many years to develop and can be detected very early through such tests cervical cancer is one of the most highly preventable of all cancers. In countries like the USA the incidence of cervical cancer has gone down because of these tests and preventive action.


The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancerous cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. You should start getting Pap tests at age 21.

If your Pap test results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. In that case you will not need another Pap test for as long as three years.

If you are 30 years old or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. If both test results are normal, you can wait five years to have your next Pap test.


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