It is the 21st century, and women still don't know about many diseases they are prone to. Sadly, Cervical cancer is a medical condition that needs more awareness campaigns. Beginning from cervical cancer staging to the causes of it, every woman must be aware of this disease.
So, this blog takes the first step to cervical cancer awareness. Let's start with a basic outline of what cervical cancer is.
Cervical Cancer: What Does it Mean?
Cervical cancer is a carcinoma in situ cervix infection of the uterus. In other words, the malignant infection is in the lower region of the female reproductive system, where the uterus links to the vagina. In particular, just cancel begins in the transformation zone where the exocervix (outer) and endocervix (inner) meet.
This cancer is prevalent in women, and as per many studies, this infection develops mainly in women after their 20s. And most women are likely at risk of chemical cancer diagnosis till the age of 65.
Common Causes of Cervical Cancer in Women
Before we get on to understanding cervical cancer staging, let's have a look at some common causes. There is very little evidence about the exact cause of this disease. However, there is a list of potential factors that increase the risk of cervical cancer. The reasons are as follows:
Exposure to HPV or Human Papillomavirus through sexual transmission plays a vital role in causing cervical cancer. In most cases, the body's immune system fights off this dangerous virus, but in some instances, it leads to abnormal cell growth in the cervix. Certain HPV strains, such as HPV-18 and HPV-16, are more likely a potential reason for the development of cervical cancer.
Overuse of Oral Contraceptives
Long-term intake or overuse of birth control pills and oral contraceptives are also causes of cervical cancer. Using these pills for an extended period leads to hormonal imbalance and also thickens the mucus lining around the cervix. To be particular, these pills do not directly affect the body, but they make it weaker and more exposed to HPV infections.
Smoking or intake of tobacco can also be linked to the increase in cervical cancer. Some studies also state that smoking also alters or impacts cervical cancer spread. That is because the chemicals in tobacco or cigarette smoke damage the DNA present in the cervical cells. Thus leading to an increased risk of HPV infections.
All the reasons listed above somehow prove that exposure to human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer spread.
What is Cervical Cancer Staging or Stages of Cervical Cancer?
To begin with, the early stage cervical cancer symptoms differ from the later stages of it. The staging or different stages hint at how much the disease has spread across your body. In other words, it is used in medical terms to determine the severity of cervical cancer.
In particular, every medical professional looks into the stage of cancer before they begin treating a patient. The cervical cancer staging not only helps the doctors to get an idea of how serious the problem is, but it also helps to suggest the best possible treatments for it.
But how do professionals determine if the patient has signs of cervical cancer stage 1, stage 2, or stage 3? Well, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, or FIGO, has created a staging system to determine the cervical cancer spread in the body. Quickly, let's get ahead to the next section to know what the stages are.
Stages of Cervical Cancer with Symptoms
Cervical cancer is classified into four stages, according to the FIGO staging method. This staging system uses numbers from 0 to 4 (Roman numbers) to denote the different stages. The advancing numbers in the stages tell about the spread of cervical cancer in the body. Here are the stages along with the systems.
Stage 0 cervical cancer does not have many specific symptoms. The preliminary symptoms seem more like minor problems such as vaginal discharge or foul smell like bacterial vaginosis. At this stage, the carcinoma is in situ or has started growing between the cervix cell lining and layers. It is basically a precancer stage that can be treated before it turns serious.
Stage 1 has further cervical cancer staging to denote the seriousness of the problem. Signs of cervical cancer stage 1 are mostly vaginal bleeding. It is quite noticeable in women after the age of 45 because the bleeding continues even after menopause. Here are the other divisions in this stage:
- Stage IA1: In this stage, the cancerous growth is relatively small and visible to the microscope. It is generally less than 3 millimeters.
- Stage IA2: This stage also has a cancerous growth of 3 to 5 millimeters, only visible with the microscope
- Stage IB1: The tumor or cancerous cell group increases in size. It is nearly 2 centimeters and is also visible without a microscope.
- Stage IB2: The cancerous tumor in the cervix grows from 2 centimeters to approximately 4 centimeters.
- Stage IB3: This is the full growth of the tumor in stage 1 with at least 4 centimeters in size.
The stage 2 cervical cancer survival rate is comparatively lower because it spreads beyond the uterus and cervix. Particularly in stage 2, the infection reaches your intimate area. It also has further subdivisions:
- Stage IIA: In this stage, the patients can notice abnormal uterine bleeding along with pelvic pain.
- Stage IIA1: The cancer grows beyond the cervix. However, it does not spread around the tissues or parametria and is 4 centimeters in size.
- Stage IIA2: The cancer cells grow more than 4 centimeters in size.
- Stage IIB: This is the last cervical cancer staging in stage 2. In this stage, cancer starts growing outside the parametria and around the vagina.
Stage 3 cervical cancer has alarming symptoms. By this stage, the cancer spreads to the lower part of the vagina. It also starts to grow towards the pelvic region. It can subsequently cause kidney problems. Besides this, there is a possibility that stage 3 cervical cancer spreads to lymph nodes. It also has the following advancement stages:
- Stage IIIA: The cancer infection spreads to the lower vagina. Some patients also face blocking of the uterus and difficulty in urinating.
- Stage IIIB: The infection starts spreading in the pelvic wall in this substage.
- Stage IIIC1: Tumour or cancer spreads to the lymph nodes in the pelvic region.
- Stage IIIC2: In this cervical cancer level, the infection starts spreading around the para-aortic nodes.
Stage 4 is the most serious of all the other stages. In most of the cases, cancer spreads beyond the limit to the different organs. It is end stage cervical cancer. It is likely to spread to organs, beginning from the bladder to the liver and lungs. This last end dangerous state also has 2 levels:
- Stage IVA: In this substage, the cancer spreads beyond the pelvic region and reaches the urinary bladder and rectum.
- Stage IVB: In this stage, the cancer spreads around all the distant organs and infects the bones
Diagnosis and Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Firstly, let's begin with the screening tests for cervical cancer. Screening tests like Pap tests and HPV DNA tests help to detect precancerous cells. Doctors examine the cervical region for any abnormalities. They also use cervical cancer staging to understand the advancement of the problem.
In addition to the smear tests, if a doctor finds something suspicious, they carry out a cervical tissue biopsy. Another way for diagnosis is a colposcopy. In colposcopy, the doctor examines the pelvic and cervix using a special microscope.
When it comes to treatment, like other cancers, this disease is also treated with radiation therapy and chemotherapy. If the tumor size is small, the medical professionals also recommend the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy).
Also Read: Infertility In Women: Causes And Treatment
We hope now you have a basic understanding of how cervical cancer staging is done and what the different stages mean. If you want to check if you are potentially at risk of this condition, you can go for diagnostic and screening tests. Also, visit a medical professional or consult your doctor.
Altogether, diagnosis and screening tests help medical professionals to observe abnormal changes that might be precancerous. In case you are doubtful if you have cervical cancer, consult your doctor.