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Cervical Cancer

  • What is cervical cancer?

    Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth that forms in the cervix (the neck of the womb at the top of the vagina). It is the most common cancer of a woman's reproductive system.

    Because the cervix is easy to examine, it is possible to screen for cervical cancer using a reliable and inexpensive test called a Papanicolaou (Pap) smear. You should have regular screening of your cervix if you are sexually active – every 3 years until the age of 30, then every 5 years after.

  • The most common cause of cervical cancer is an infection with human papilloma virus (HPV), although not all women with a HPV infection will get cervical cancer. The infection can be spread during sexual activity. Other risk factors are:

    • A male sexual partner with:
      1. History of many sexual partners
      2. A partner who has had cervical cancer
      3. A previous sexually transmitted infection
    • First sexual activity at a young age (younger than 20 years)
    • Many sexual partners
    • Smoking
    • Use of an oral contraceptive pill
  • Early cervical cancer has no symptoms. You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

    • A single swollen leg
    • Abnormal bleeding from the vagina (after sexual intercourse or between menstrual periods)
    • Pain during sexual intercourse and vaginal discharge
    • Chronic constipation and feeling a presence of stools despite having emptied your bowel
    • Leakage of urine or faeces from the vagina
    • Lower back pain or pelvic pain
    • Painful or difficult urination and cloudy urine
  • Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer:

    • Early-stage cervical cancer is treated by a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) or radiation therapy (high-energy x-ray), often with chemotherapy
    • Late-stage or advanced cervical cancer is treated by radiation therapy, often alongside chemotherapy 
    • Pre-cancer of the cervix is treated by removing the abnormal cells from the lining of the cervix, which usually prevents cervical cancer from occurring
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