16 December 2021

Cervical Cancer: Causes, Screening, and Treatment

Globally, cervical cancer is considered the second most common type of cancer for women, with more than half a million cases diagnosed every year. In Singapore, it is ranked the tenth most common type of cancer, with a rate of 6.9% diagnosed cases per 100,000 women annually. 

Although cervical cancer usually develops in women at the age of 40s and 50s, it can still affect younger women. 

Causes of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is defined as having an abnormal growth in your cervix and can be attributed to the following causes:

  • Sexual activity – About 99% of cervical cancer diagnoses have been caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) obtained through sexual activity. HPV encompasses over 100 different types of viruses, which can cause cancer. If you’ve started at an early age or have multiple sexual partners, the risk of getting infected with HPV and other STIs increases.
  • Birth control medication – Most sexually-active women take contraceptives to protect themselves from unplanned pregnancies. However, doing so will not necessarily protect them from STIs. Therefore, birth control pills and other oral contraceptives can still lead to cervical cancer.
  • Family historyOn the other hand, If you have family members diagnosed with cervical cancer, you have a higher risk of developing it.
  • Smoking – Many researchers have found tobacco byproducts in the cervical tissues of women smokers. With their findings, they believe that carcinogenic substances damage the DNA of the cervix cells, thereby contributing to cancer development. What’s more, smoking negatively affects the immune system, making it less effective in fighting against viruses like HPV. That said, leading an unhealthy lifestyle that includes constant smoking can cause cervical cancer.

Some of the common symptoms you might encounter include pain, post-coital bleeding, post-menopausal bleeding, and inter-menstrual bleeding. However, these symptoms don’t appear during the early stages of cancer. Instead, it presents itself in the latter stages, accompanied by other symptoms such as foul-smelling or bloody vaginal discharge. Before it develops into something severe, it’s recommended to opt for a screening at a recommended women’s clinic in Singapore.

Screenings to Diagnose Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer can be detected through regular screening at a gynaecology clinic. If you’re sexually active, the following tests should be performed at least every three years until you reach 30. Afterwards, you can get them every five years if the results are normal.

  • Pap smear test – This is a screening commonly done to detect potentially cancerous or pre-cancerous cells in your cervix. To do so, the gynaecologist will use a speculum, an instrument that holds the vaginal walls open, to see into the cervix. Then, he will use a spatula or soft brush to collect a sample tissue from the cervix. Once collected, the cells will be sent to the laboratory for evaluation. This should take only a few minutes to complete.

To get accurate results, you should abstain from sexual activity at least 24 hours before the scheduled test. Likewise, you should plan the screening when you’re not menstruating. 

  • HPV test As the name suggests, this test detects HPV and identifies the specific strain you have. This test can be performed alongside the pap smear, or it can be recommended to you by your doctor after getting the pap smear results. 
  • Colposcopy – A colposcopy is an effective way to gain a clearer view of your cervix using a magnifying device known as the colposcope. This device shines light into the vagina and cervix to find underlying problems not visible to the naked eye.

Available Treatment for Cervical Cancer

Depending on the severity of the diagnosis, the treatment options may vary. If the abnormal cells are detected early on, a day surgery may suffice to remove the diseased portion. However, if the cells have grown past the pre-cancerous cells, a good gynaecologist in Singapore may recommend the following treatments:

  • Ablative procedures – These procedures remove abnormal cells with minimal impact using cryosurgery, cauterisation, or conization.
  • Radical hysterectomy – This is a type of surgery that involves removing the cervix, uterus, and surrounding tissues to prevent the spread of the virus. The downside, however, is that this surgical procedure can impact fertility.
  • Immunotherapy – This treatment method utilises your immune system to destroy cancer cells. 
  • Chemotherapy – This is a powerful treatment used to kill cancer cells in your body. Because of the impact of this treatment, it’s only reserved for patients with advanced cancer. 

Conclusion

While these treatments are effective, the best solution is always prevention. Scheduling regular screenings, getting HPV vaccinations, and improving your lifestyle are some of the ways to protect yourself from developing cervical cancer.