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Can We Prevent Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer- A deadly disease

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Cancer is the most prevalent disease in the world. It may infect you at any age with its heinous side effects sometimes leading to death. In cancer, the cells of the body start to grow in an uncontrolled manner. Normally cells grow, divide and die at the specified time called the cell cycle. But when the damaged and abnormal cells despite dying start to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner, they form tumours. A tumour is a mass of cancerous cells/tissue.

Tumours can be benign or malignant. When cancerous cells do not spread to nearby tissues, they are benign. When cancer cells invade nearby tissues and spread to distant organs of the body, they are metastatic cancer tumours and are deadly.

Cancer comes in many forms. Talking about cancer in women, Breast, ovarian and cervical cancers are most common. Large numbers of young women are getting diagnosed with cervical cancers over the past few years. Breast and Ovary are the most discussed forms of cancer in women.

So let’s talk about the least talked one cancer in women i.e. cervical cancer.

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Cervical cancer in women

Cancer in the cells of the cervix (the connecting part between the uterus and vagina) is cervical cancer.

It is mainly caused by HPV (Human Papillomavirus). This virus is mainly transmitted sexually. When exposed to HPV, the infection may develop in the cervix. The immune system of the body fights against the infection and eradicates it. But unfortunately in some cases, the infection persists and becomes cancer.

The chances of developing cervical cancer can be reduced by going through regular screening/testing such as a Pap smear and getting vaccinated against HPV thus preventing cervical cancer.

A Pap smear is a test in which cells on the surface of the cervix and the area around it are removed gently with the help of a brush to check it under the microscope.

The cell changes observed under the microscope reveal whether it is cervical cancer or something unusual that may lead to cervical cancer.

Young women around 20 to 40 years of age are more likely to get cervical cancer. Every day many women are losing life to cervical cancer. When diagnosed early it can be treated successfully without much pain in less time. Late diagnosis at the last stage makes treatment complex and success rates are less. So, going through pelvic screening/testing on the regular basis should be part of every woman’s health routine.

Cervical cancer like all other cancers can be benign or metastatic. When cancer metastasizes, they penetrate deeper inside the tissues and spread to other parts of the body like the vagina, rectum, liver, lung etc.

Different kinds of cervical cancer:

1) Squamous cell carcinoma: It is the most common cervical cancer occurring in the lining of cervix cells.

2) Adenocarcinoma: This type of cervical cancer occurs inside the mucus-producing cells.

3) Mixed carcinoma: It is rare and the features are suggestive of the other two types of carcinomas.

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Causes of cervical cancer

Any change or mutation in the DNA of the cell causes cancer. DNA is the part of the cell that provides the cell with the set of instructions to carry out proper cell activities. Healthy cells grow, divide and die at the specified time. Mutations inside the DNA of the cell cause the cell to grow in an uncontrolled way without letting the cells die. Cell rectifies mistakes in genes. But sometimes damage in genes is huge so the cell destructs itself or the immune system destroys the cell.

When a mutation in genes makes it difficult for the cell to understand the instructions, the cell starts multiplying out of control without dying and hence causes cancer.

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These abnormal cells accumulate to form a mass called a tumour. Similarly, when unusual mutation/changes occur inside the DNA of healthy cervix cells, it forms cervical cancer.

HPV (Human Papillomavirus) is the most common cause of developing cervical cancer. Many women get infected with HPV leading to skin irritations. The immune system of the body never lets HPV cause cervical cancer. It fights against the virus and forces it to leave the body. But the body with a weak immune system loses to HPV. The virus stays for years causing the development of cervical cancer. So, an individual’s lifestyle, eating habits, and environment play an important role in developing cervical cancer.

Who are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancers?

Habits/practices that play major a role in developing cervical cancer:

Having sex at an early age (16 years of age or below)

Having multiple sex partners

Frequent consumption of birth control pills

Chronic cigarette smoking

Weak immune system

Suffering from sexually transmitted disease (STD)

Symptoms of cervical cancer:

In starting cervical cancer mainly shows no noticeable symptoms. But some could be:

Pain while sexual intercourse

Bleeding after sex, between periods and especially after menopause.

Blood or unusual watery discharge from the vaginal area.

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Some advanced stage disease symptoms can be:

Severe pelvic pain

Trouble in peeing

Swelling in legs

Bone pain

Kidney Failure

Loss of weight and appetite

Fatigue

When you feel such symptoms consult a doctor immediately.

Methods of diagnosis of cervical cancer


The most common method of checking whether you have cervical cancer is a Pap smear test or HPV testing. A Pap smear is a simple and main test for a women's routine pelvic exam. As discussed earlier, in a Pap smear the cells on the surface of the cervix are brushed out and observed under a microscope. If anything unusual is spotted then you may be advised to undergo a biopsy procedure by the doctor. In a biopsy, a small part of the cervix tissue is taken for the confirmation of the stage and nature of the cancer.

Other methods used are:

Colposcopy: In colposcopy, the cervix cells are stained with harmless dye or acetic acid to have a more clear vision under a microscope called a colposcope. The microscope gives an 8-15x magnified image of cells. If signs of cancer are observed then you may have to undergo the procedure of biopsy.

LEEP (loop electrosurgical excision procedure): A part of cervix tissue is taken to be examined using an electrified wire loop.

Conization: Anaesthesia is given and a part of the cervix is removed by operating.

When cervical cancer is confirmed through biopsy, various series of tests are performed to confirm the stage of cancer, nature of cancer and whether it has spread to other parts of the body (i.e. cancer has metastasized) like chest X-ray to check on the lungs, CT scan and blood tests to check liver, bladder, urinary tract, proctosigmoidoscopy to check rectum, PET CT to check on Lymph nodes, etc.

Treatment for cervical cancer

Cervical cancer ranges from stages 0 to 4. In stage 0 (zero) the tumour is benign i.e. it has not spread to nearby tissues. Benign tumours are precancerous and easy to treat. Treatments to kill the benign cervical tumours are:

Cryosurgery: A tool of freezing temperature is used. It freezes the cells on the cervix. They die and get replaced by new cells with time.

Laser ablation: precancerous cells on the surface of the cervix are destroyed by using a laser beam.

After tumour cells are killed your oncologists may advise you to undergo hysterectomy surgery in which the uterus is removed to avoid the occurrence of cervical cancer.

Treatment for advanced-stage cervical cancer:

Four methods of treatment are mainly used for cervical cancers. They are surgery, Radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Surgery: When cancer cells penetrate deeper layers of tissue but don’t spread to other parts of the body then surgery is done to remove the tumour. Hysterectomy is the procedure of removal of the uterus from the body, done when cancer spreads up to the uterus.

Radiation: In radiation cancer cells are killed by providing a high-energy beam of rays over the treated area.

Two types of radiation therapy are used to treat cervical cancer.

1) External Radiation: the machine is used to provide a beam of radiation over the pelvic zone. Few minutes of radiation for almost 5 days/week for 5-6 weeks. Towards the end before treatment completion, an extra dose of radiation called “Boost” is given.

2) Internal Radiation: A capsule consisting of radioactive material is implanted in the cervix area. It focuses cancer-killing rays toward the tumour without much harm to the nearby healthy tissues. It is known as Brachytherapy or implant radiation.

Chemotherapy: This therapy is used by oncologists to treat advanced-stage cervical cancer that has spread to other parts of the body by using strong cancer-killing drugs. Treatment is given in cycles with gaps in between each cycle to allow the body to recover from the side effects of strong cancer-killing drugs used.

Immunotherapy: Also known as biological therapy, is done when chemotherapy doesn’t help much and cancer spreads to other body parts. Drugs like Pembrolizumab are given intravenously to block the protein formation on the surface of cancer cells and help shrink the tumour.

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Tips for cancer care

Suffering from diseases like cancer and undergoing cancer treatment lead to low physical and mental strength. Side effects associated with cancer treatment and severity of disease many times lead to anxiety/depression. So, the patient and attendant need to take care of the sufferer’s mental and physical health.

Eating a healthy and protein-rich diet may help combat cancer treatment.

Having some physical activity is very good to keep mood elevated, mind and body energized.

Follow a proper sleep routine. However, pain due to treatment may cause difficulty in sleeping and eating. But taking naps and eating healthy whenever soothing will help.

Fighting spirit and good willpower are much needed to handle treatment better.

A sudden diagnosis of a disease like cancer may lead to anxiety/depression. Consulting a psycho-oncologist to help your treatment-related anxiety/depression will surely help.

Quitting bad habits like smoking, and alcohol consumption are very important for keeping the body strong enough to tolerate the treatment and side effects associated with it.

Follow-up post treatment

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Regular pelvic examination and Pap smear testing should be part of every women's health routine check-ups. If you had cervical cancer or precancerous cells in the cervix then a proper schedule of follow-up should be followed. After completion of treatment, follow up after every three/six months for 1-2 years. Then yearly follow-up should be done so if the cancer is coming back again it could be diagnosed early.

Every woman should undergo regular Pap smear and pelvic examination on a routine basis whether there is any history of cervical cancer or not.

Prevention of cervical cancer

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Whenever we hear about cancer question that comes to our mind is, can we prevent cancer?

Some preventive measures to adopt for the prevention of cervical cancer can be:

1) Regular pelvic examination and Pap smear should be done once every 2 to 3 years.

2) Getting your vaccination done against HPV. Gardasil is the FDA-approved vaccine against HPV.

3) Having a protected sex life.

4) Lowering your addiction to smoking and alcohol consumption.

Apart from these primary preventive measures against cervical cancer, diet and lifestyle also play a major role in preventing and combatting cancer.

Prevention with diet

Each cell contains a nucleus. Inside the nucleus, there is DNA made up of genes. Cancer occurs when mutations take place inside the nucleus of the cell. Mutations can be inherited or acquired. Acquired mutation occurs lifelong due to natural processes or due to some factors like:

Smoking

High energy rays like x-rays

Ultraviolet rays from the sun

Few substances in our food

Chemicals are present in our environment.

The inherited mutation is inherited from parents. Sometimes person inherits a few faulty genes from their parents. And thus increases the risk of cancer.

Cell rectifies mistakes in genes. But sometimes damage in genes is huge so the cell destructs itself or the immune system destroys the cell.

When a mutation in genes makes it difficult for the cell to understand the instructions, the cell starts multiplying out of control without dying and hence causes cancer.

So, as we know that certain substances in food and changes in lifestyle may trigger acquired mutation in genes, which may lead to cancer.

Many experts believe that including a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet may help fight cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is mostly caused by the HPV virus. Every woman carries the HPV virus once in their lifetime but only some develop cancer. A body with a weak immune system converts HPV infection of cervix cells into cancerous lesions. However, the body with a good immune system fights against HPV infection and succeeds in eradicating it from the body thus stopping it from turning into cancerous cells.

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Observational studies suggest that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can play a good role in the prevention of cancer and dealing with its treatment. No single superfood alone can help in cancer prevention and regression, but according to certain cancer researchers, plant-based diet and vegan food items can help in cancer prevention up to a certain limit. But the question arises that all food products in today’s era are not coming in their purest forms to grocery shelves. So these cancer-fighting food products will still play a strong role in cancer prevention? However, we can’t help it so some cancer-fighting foods based on studies are:

1. Vegetables

2. Fruits

3. Flaxseeds

4. Olive oil

5. Spices

6. Beans and Legumes

7. Garlic

8. Fish

9. Dairy: Dairy products may help in cancer prevention like raw milk and other dairy items but mass-produced dairy products having preservatives and additives may lead to cancer. However, researches weakly support such outcomes suggesting dual properties of dairy products.

According to a few pieces of research, certain foods are said to increase cancer risk. They are:

1. Processed foods and meat: Consuming stored meat using preservatives like salting, smoking, etc. increases the risk of cancer.

2. Sugar and refined carbs dense food: High consumption of sugar and refined products causes blood sugar levels to spike. Insulin influences cell division and increases the growth and division of cells thereby accelerating the spread of cancer cells.

On the other hand, higher blood glucose levels cause inflammation in the body. Continuous inflammation in the body due to frequent blood sugar spikes leads to the growth of abnormal cells thereby leading to cancer.

3. Overcooked foods: Cooking certain foods at a higher temperature like frying, and sautéing produces harmful chemicals like heterocyclic amines (HA). Excess accumulation of such chemicals leads to inflammation thus increasing the possibility of cancer.

Obesity is one of the highest risk factor for developing cancer. How?

can-we-prevent-cervical-cancer

Obesity leads to insulin resistance due to which cells divide faster than usual thereby increasing the probability of developing cancer. Faster cell division and growth increase cancer spread in the body thereby creating hurdles in cancer treatment.

Obesity causes inflammation in the body. Inflammation causes the growth of abnormal cells. Accumulation of such abnormal cells may lead to cancer.

Fat cells have high estrogen levels leading to an increased risk of cancer.

Questions that still come to mind post-cancer treatment

Can my cancer come back?

Chances of cervical cancer coming back are low but still can come back if the cancer was of advanced level and aggressive. It is known as cancer recurrence. So, regular follow-ups and testing post-treatment are necessary to stay updated and early signs of cancer coming back could be detected.

Can I get cancer in other parts of the body?

In some cases, second cancer can come to the lung, mouth, throat, stomach, pancreas and uterus.

Can I pass on my cancer to my daughter?

Parents can pass their faulty genes in their kids. So, it is possible to pass on cervical cancer to your daughter 2 to 3 times more than the mother who didn’t have cervical cancer. However, cervical cancers are majorly caused by the HPV virus and not genetic mutations. But maybe there could be some condition that makes it difficult for women of the same family to fight HPV infection and thus develop cervical cancer as time progresses.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Atiya Hilal

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