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Cervical cancer is one of the multiple types of gynecologic cancer that forms when DNA in the cells of the cervix begin to change. In some cases, they can quickly grow out of control and form a malignant tumor in the cervix.
According to the American Cancer Society, cervical cancer is most common in women between the ages of 35 and 44. Once a leading cause of death among women in America, cervical cancer deaths have declined over the past four decades due to preventive screening.
There are several types of cervical cancer. The most common types of cervical cancer include the following:
Most cervical cancers diagnosed are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer begins in cells that line the outer part of the cervix, known as squamous cells.
Adenocarcinomas usually develop from the glandular cells producing mucus in the endocervix, also known as the cervical canal.
Cervical cancers that have both squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinomas are known as mixed carcinomas or adenosquamous carcinomas. However, this type of cervical cancer is not as common as other types.
There are several known factors that can increase a woman’s risk of developing cervical cancer.
An HPV infection is one of the most important risk factors for developing cervical cancer. HPV is a group of more than 100 viruses that can cause warts, or papillomas, to grow and spread.
Extended use of birth control can increase the chances of developing cervical cancer in women who have an HPV infection. Once they stop taking oral contraceptives, their risk returns to normal.
Since the HPV virus can remain dormant for years before suddenly becoming active, regular Pap smears can catch cervical cancer at an early stage. Women who wait years in between seeing their doctor, especially those with underlying risk factors, are at higher risk.
Women with weakened immune systems are more at risk of developing HPV infections, which can lead to cervical cancer. A healthy immune system is imperative to destroying cancerous cells before they develop, grow and spread.
If you have an HPV infection and have also carried multiple pregnancies to term, you may be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
Diethylstilbestrol (DES) was a drug given to mothers before 1971 to prevent the chance of miscarriage. Women whose mothers took this drug during pregnancy, especially in the first 16 weeks, are more likely to develop cervical cancer than others.
Women who smoke are nearly twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as those who don’t. Smoking also weakens the immune system, which makes it harder for your body to fight off HPV infections.
If your mother or sister had cervical cancer, your chances of developing it are higher.
Cervical cancer can’t be completely prevented. However, there are preventive steps that can be taken now to lower your risk.
Keeping up a diet high in fruits and vegetables can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer. Likewise, maintaining a normal BMI can lower your risk as well.
Smoking has been linked to cervical pre-cancer and cancer. Even if you’ve smoked most of your life, quitting smoking can reduce your chances of developing cervical cancer.
HPV vaccines can protect women from contracting HPV infections. Vaccines are preventive by nature, so they won’t treat an already existing HPV infection.
Most women won’t notice any outward signs of cervical cancer when it’s in an early stage. That’s why preventive screening is so important regardless of whether you feel something is wrong. If you notice one or more of these signs, see your Mercy doctor right away to ask about a cervical cancer screening. Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
Unlike other gynecological cancers, cervical cancer can be detected through preventive screening exams. Cervical cancer screenings have saved many lives by detecting the presence of cervical cancer at an early stage. There are two main types of preventive screening for cervical cancer available.
If you experience worrisome symptoms or have abnormal screening results, your Mercy doctor may recommend additional tests to confirm or rule out a cervical cancer diagnosis. The following tests may be used to diagnose cervical cancer:
During this procedure, your Mercy doctor uses an instrument known as a colposcope to examine the cervix with magnifying lenses. It’s a relatively safe and non-invasive procedure.
A hysteroscopy is performed with an instrument known as a hysteroscope, a thin tube that’s placed by your Mercy doctor into the vagina to examine your cervix.
There are several types of cervical biopsies which include: colposcopy biopsy, endocervical curettage, cone biopsy, loop electrosurgical procedure and cold knife cone biopsy. All types of cervical biopsies can be used to treat both cervical pre-cancers and cancers. In some instances, biopsies can remove all your abnormal tissue.
Your Mercy doctor will sometimes recommend a cystoscopy to check for signs of cancer within the bladder and urethra. In this procedure, a tube is placed into the bladder through the urethra.
This procedure is a visual inspection of your rectum, usually done to find out if cervical cancer has spread beyond the cervix into the rectum.
Certain imaging tests such as CT scans, PET scans and MRIs can be done to look inside your body to determine whether cervical cancer has spread. Imaging tests will guide your Mercy doctor in developing your treatment plan.
Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage of cancer, how far it’s spread, your age and overall health. If cancer hasn’t spread beyond the cervix, your Mercy doctor will usually perform surgery to remove pre-cancerous or cancerous cells.
Your Mercy care team will determine the most appropriate treatment options for you and coordinate your appointments with our oncologists. If you’re diagnosed with cervical cancer during pregnancy, your treatment will also depend on how far along you are. If you're in your third trimester, your oncologists may recommend delaying treatment until after your baby is born.
Mercy offers several surgical procedures to remove pre-cancerous cells or early-stage cervical cancers that haven’t spread. Mercy has many skilled surgeons to perform these gynecological procedures using minimally invasive, robotic-assisted approaches. Types of surgery for cervical cancer can include:
Cryosurgery, also known as cryotherapy, this procedure destroys abnormal tissue on the cervix by freezing it. Cryosurgery causes some discomfort, and most women will feel a sensation of cold and cramping.
Carbon dioxide laser surgery is a procedure is used to destroy or remove abnormal cervical tissue, leaving normal tissue intact. It’s a relatively brief procedure, usually done in just 10 to 15 minutes.
The LEEP procedure uses a wire loop that has a low-voltage electrical current to remove abnormal tissue from the cervix. It’s usually done in your Mercy doctor’s office and only takes a few minutes.
Also known as a cone biopsy, conization removes a cone-shaped area of tissue high in the cervical canal. While recovery time is usually a week for this procedure, women can usually go home after a brief observation period.
For cervical cancer that has spread beyond the cervix, advanced surgical options may include:
There are many kinds of radiation therapy treatments available to cervical cancer patients. Some of the most common include:
During high-dose brachytherapy treatment, your Mercy doctor places a high dosage of radioactive material inside your body to treat your cancer. You may need several short treatment sessions over the span of a couple of weeks.
IMRT allows your Mercy care team to match radiation beamlets to the exact size and shape of your tumor. The goal of IMRT is to maximize the number of beams hitting your tumor, and minimize the number of beams hitting your healthy tissue.
Chemotherapy may be used with radiation therapy to treat cervical cancer that can’t be removed with surgery. It can also be used to treat cancer that has spread to other areas of the body or has returned after prior treatment. Chemotherapy is usually delivered into your veins through an IV and given in cycles, which allows your body to recover in between treatments.
We understand that a cancer diagnosis can be frightening and challenging in many ways. Your Mercy care team is committed to providing the best possible treatment with compassion and support. It’s our mission to care for you every step of the way and help you return quickly to your normal everyday activities.
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At Mercy, we offer comprehensive testing services to diagnose cervical cancer, including:
At Mercy, we offer compassionate care for a variety of treatment services for cervical cancer, including:
Pap tests are the best way to screen for cervical cancer and catch it early.
Learn about cervical cancer screening