> Cervical cancer – The second most common cancer in women
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the tenth most common cancer amongst Singaporean women and second most common amongst women worldwide.
Most women between develop this disease when they are between 20 to 50 years old but there is a high chance it can be cured if detected early.
What causes Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer arises from the neck of the womb, also known as the cervix. The cervix is made up of millions of tiny cells. Untreated changes or infections in these cells could develop into cervical cancer. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a common virus that causes cells to change, and this persistent infection causes the cells to grow in an abnormal way, leading to cervical cancer.
In most cases, the HPV is eliminated by the immune system before any harm is done, but in a small percentage of people, the virus remains and causes cervical cancer. This virus is the cause of 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases worldwide. HPV is spread by sexual contact. Smoking and a weakened immune system, usually due to conditions such as HIV/ AIDS, greatly increase the risk of developing cervical cancer.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Early stage cervical cancer has no symptoms. This is why regular Pap smear screenings are crucial and emphasized upon. The earlier the cancer is detected, the higher the chances of recovery.
These are the symptoms that may surface at a later stage of cervical cancer (source):
- Vaginal bleeding following intercourse, or in between periods or after menopause
- Blood-stained or vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul smell
- Lower abdominal pain or pain during intercourse
- Urinating more often
- Swollen leg
The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding e.g. post-coital bleeding, inter-menstrual, or post-menopausal bleeding.
Before cervical cancer appears, the cells of the cervix go through precancerous changes, known as dysplasia. This is a slow process that develops over many years.
Women are advised to take a Pap test every three years. If precancerous cells are found, they often can be removed (source). Once potential cancerous cells have been detected, a colposcopy and biopsy will be performed to confirm the staging and diagnosis of the cancer.
Getting a HPV vaccine prevents HPV infection and the possible development of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for young women before 26 years old and ideally before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV. Two to three doses within a sixth-month period are required for the full vaccine.