Cervical cancer: What women need to know

We all hate that dreaded “c” word. Yes, you know what I’m talking about: cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, an estimated 12,900 cases of cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2015. Cervical cancer can be successfully treated if detected early.

Dr. Anuj Suri, gynecologic oncologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, gives insight on the disease and explains a curative treatment option women can undergo.

What causes cervical cancer?

Although cervical cancers start from pre-cancerous cells, only some women with these pre-cancers will develop cervical cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. There are over 100 types of HPVs, 15 of which can cause cervical cancer.

While HPV can cause cervical cancer, there are other factors to consider. Smoking, a weakened immune system and giving birth at a young age are all risk factors.

How is cervical cancer detected?

One of the ways cervical cancer can be detected is by using a Pap smear. The goal of a Pap smear is to catch the pre-cancerous cells before they turn into an invasive cancer.

Radical trachelectomy
Radical trachelectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the removal of the cervix, surrounding tissues and one-to-two centimeters of the vagina, but the uterus remains intact

Following guidelines by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Suri recommends that women between the ages of 21-29 get a pap smear every three years. For women between the ages 30-65, Pap smears should occur every three years (without HPV test) or every five years (with HPV test).

After the age of 65, pap smears are not needed unless the patient has a history of abnormal Pap smears. If a patient has an abnormal pap smear, the testing frequency changes.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Symptoms typically do not appear until the cancer has spread to other organs in the body. Symptoms include:

  • Bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse or after menopause
  • Menstrual cycles that are longer and heavier than usual
  • Excess vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during sex

How is cervical cancer treated?

Cervical cancer is third most common cancer worldwide among women and can often be successfully treated if caught early. Most early stage cancers are treated with hysterectomy or radical hysterectomy. Since younger women who have not completed childbearing are being diagnosed with cervical cancer, fertility sparing options and treatments are becoming available. 

Radical trachelectomy, a robotic treatment, is a minimally invasive procedure that involves the removal of the cervix, surrounding tissues and one-to-two centimeters of the vagina. The uterus is then able to be re-attached to the vagina, allowing women to preserve their fertility and potentially bear children. Dr. Suri performs this procedure on women typically under the age of 35 who still want to have children.

Other treatment options include radiation therapy and chemotherapy.