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4,000 women die every year from cervical cancer. Don’t be 1 of them.
Thanks to the great strides that have been made in the early detection of cervical cancer, it is one of the most survivable cancers in the world. Pam knows because she caught her cancer early.
Cervical cancer is malignant neoplasm of the cervix uteri or cervical area. One of the most common symptoms is anormal vaginal bleeding, but in some cases there may be no obvious symptoms until the cancer is in its advanced stages. Treatment consists of surgery (including local excision) in early stages and chemotherapy and radiotherapy in advanced stages of the disease.
Pap smear screening can identify potentially precancerous changes. Treatment of high grade changes can prevent the development of cancer. In developed countries, the widespread use of cervical screening programs has reduced the incidence of invasive cervical cancer by 50% or more.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a necessary factor in the development of almost all cases of cervical cancer. HPV vaccines effective against the two strains of HPV that currently cause approximately 70% of cervical cancer have been licensed in the U.S, Canada, Australia and the EU. Since the vaccines only cover some of the cancer causing ("high-risk") types of HPV, women should seek regular Pap smear screening, even after vaccination.
Cervical cancer seen on a T2 weighted saggital MR image of the pelvis.The cervix is the narrow portion of the uterus where it joins with the top of the vagina. Most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, arising in the squamous (flattened) epithelial cells that line the cervix. Adenocarcinoma, arising in glandular epithelial cells is the second most common type. Very rarely, cancer can arise in other types of cells in the cervix.
Signs and Symptoms
The early stages of cervical cancer may be completely asymptomatic. Vaginal bleeding, contact bleeding or (rarely) a vaginal mass may indicate the presence of malignancy. Also, moderate pain during sexual intercourse and vaginal discharge are symptoms of cervical cancer. In advanced disease, metastases may be present in the abdomen, lungs or elsewhere.
Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer may include: loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, pelvic pain, back pain, leg pain, single swollen leg, heavy bleeding from the vagina, leaking of urine or faeces from the vagina, and bone fractures.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection with high-risk types has been shown to be a necessary factor in the development of cervical cancer. HPV DNA may be detected in virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Not all of the causes of cervical cancer are known. Several other contributing factors have been implicated.
Human papillomavirus infectionIn the United States each year there are more than 6.2 million new HPV infections in both men and women, according to the CDC, of which 10 percent will go on to develop persistent dysplasia or cervical cancer. That is why HPV is known as the "common cold" of the sexually transmitted infection world. It is very common and affects roughly 80 percent of all sexually active people, whether they have symptoms or not. The most important risk factor in the development of cervical cancer is infection with a high-risk strain of human papillomavirus. The virus cancer link works by triggering alterations in the cells of the cervix, which can lead to the development of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, which can lead to cancer.
Women who have many sexual partners (or who have sex with men who had many other partners) have a greater risk.
More than 150 types of HPV are acknowledged to exist (some sources indicate more than 200 subtypes). Of these, 15 are classified as high-risk types (16, 18, 31, 33, 35, 39, 45, 51, 52, 56, 58, 59, 68, 73, and 82), 3 as probable high-risk (26, 53, and 66), and 12 as low-risk (6, 11, 40, 42, 43, 44, 54, 61, 70, 72, 81, and CP6108). Types 16 and 18 are generally acknowledged to cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases. Together with type 31, they are the prime risk factors for cervical cancer.
Genital warts are caused by various strains of HPV which are usually not related to cervical cancer. However, it is possible to have multiple strains at the same time, including those that can cause cervical cancer along with those that cause warts. The medically accepted paradigm, officially endorsed by the American Cancer Society and other organizations, is that a patient must have been infected with HPV to develop cervical cancer, and is hence viewed as a sexually transmitted disease (although many dispute that, technically, it is the causative agent, not the cancer, that is a sexually transmitted disease), but most women infected with high risk HPV will not develop cervical cancer. Use of condoms reduces, but does not always prevent transmission. Likewise, HPV can be transmitted by skin-to-skin-contact with infected areas. In males, there is no commercially available test for HPV, although HPV is thought to grow preferentially in the epithelium of the glans penis, and cleaning of this area may be preventative.
The American Cancer Society provides the following list of risk factors for cervical cancer: human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, smoking, HIV infection, chlamydia infection, stress and stress-related disorders, dietary factors, hormonal contraception, multiple pregnancies, exposure to the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol, and family history of cervical cancer. Early age at first intercourse and first pregnancy are also considered risk factors, magnified by early use of oral contraceptives. There is a possible genetic risk associated with HLA-B7.
There has not been any definitive evidence to support the claim that circumcision of the male partner reduces the risk of cervical cancer, although some researchers say there is compelling epidemiological evidence that men who have been circumcised are less likely to be infected with HPV. However, in men with low-risk sexual behavour and monogamous female partners, circumcision makes no difference to the risk of cervical cancer.
HPV vaccine Gardasil, is a vaccine against HPV types 6, 11, 16 & 18 which is up to 98% effective.
Cervarix has been shown to be 92% effective in preventing HPV strains 16 and 18 and is effective for more than four years.
Together, HPV types 16 and 18 currently cause about 70% of cervical cancer cases. HPV types 6 and 11 cause about 90% of genital wart cases. HPV vaccines have also been shown to prevent precursors to some other cancers associated with HPV.
HPV vaccines are targeted at girls and women of age 9 to 26 because the vaccine only works if given before infection occurs; therefore, public health workers are targeting girls before they begin having sex. The vaccines have been shown to be effective for at least 4 to 6 years, and it is believed they will be effective for longer, however the duration of effectiveness and whether a booster will be needed is unknown.
The use of the vaccine in men to prevent genital warts, anal cancer, and interrupt transmission to women or other men is initially considered only a secondary market.
The high cost of this vaccine has been a cause for concern. Several countries have or are considering programs to fund HPV vaccination.
Condoms offer some protection against cervical cancer. Evidence on whether condoms protect against HPV infection is mixed, but they may protect against genital warts and the precursors to cervical cancer. They also provide protection against other STDs, such as HIV and Chlamydia, which are associated with greater risks of developing cervical cancer.
Condoms may also be useful in treating potentially precancerous changes in the cervix. Exposure to semen appears to increase the risk of precancerous changes (CIN 3), and use of condoms helps to cause these changes to regress and helps clear HPV. One study suggests that prostaglandin in semen may fuel the growth of cervical and uterine tumours and that affected women may benefit from the use of condoms.
Carcinogens from tobacco increase the risk for many cancer types, including cervical cancer, and women who smoke have about double the chance of a nonsmoker to develop cervical cancer.
Fruits and Vegetables
Higher levels of vegetable consumption were associated with a 54% decrease risk of HPV persistence.
There is weak evidence to suggest a significant deficiency of retinol can increase chances of cervical dysplasia, independently of HPV infection. A small (n~=500) case-control study of a narrow ethnic group (native Americans in New Mexico) assessed serum micro-nutrients as risk factors for cervical dysplasia. Subjects in the lowest serum retinol quartile were at increased risk of CIN I compared with women in the highest quartile.
However, the study population had low overall serum retinol, suggesting deficiency. A study of serum retinol in a well-nourished population reveals that the bottom 20% had serum retinol close to that of the highest levels in this New Mexico sub-population.
Risk of type-specific, persistent HPV infection was lower among women reporting intake values of vitamin C in the upper quartile compared with those reporting intake in the lowest quartile.
HPV clearance time was significantly shorter among women with the highest compared with the lowest serum levels of tocopherols, but significant trends in these associations were limited to infections lasting </=120 days. Clearance of persistent HPV infection (lasting >120 days) was not significantly associated with circulating levels of tocopherols. Results from this investigation support an association of micronutrients with the rapid clearance of incident oncogenic HPV infection of the uterine cervix.
A statistically significantly lower level of alpha-tocopherol was observed in the blood serum of HPV-positive patients with cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. The risk of dysplasia was four times higher for an alpha-tocopherol level < 7.95 mumol/l.
Higher folate status was inversely associated with becoming HPV test-positive. Women with higher folate status were significantly less likely to be repeatedly HPV test-positive and more likely to become test-negative. Studies have shown that lower levels of antioxidants coexisting with low levels of folic acid increases the risk of CIN development. Improving folate status in subjects at risk of getting infected or already infected with high-risk HPV may have a beneficial impact in the prevention of cervical cancer.
However, another study showed no relationship between folate status and cervical dysplasia.
The likelihood of clearing an oncogenic HPV infection is significantly higher with increasing levels of lycopenes. A 56% reduction in HPV persistence risk was observed in women with the highest plasma [lycopene] concentrations compared with women with the lowest plasma lycopene concentrations. These data suggests that vegetable consumption and circulating lycopene may be protective against HPV persistence.
The widespread introduction of the Papanicolaou test, or Pap smear for cervical cancer screening has been credited with dramatically reducing the incidence and mortality of cervical cancer in developed countries. Pap smear screening every 3–5 years with appropriate follow-up can reduce cervical cancer incidence by up to 80%. Abnormal Pap smear results may suggest the presence of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (potentially premalignant changes in the cervix) before a cancer has developed, allowing examination and possible preventive treatment. If premalignant disease or cervical cancer is detected early, it can be monitored or treated relatively noninvasively, with little impairment of fertility.
Cervical cancer screening is typically recommended starting three years or more after first sex, or starting at age 21 to 25. Recommendations for how often a Pap smear should be done vary from once a year to once every five years, in the absence of abnormal results. Guidelines vary on how long to continue screening, but well screened women who have not had abnormal smears can stop screening about age 60 to 70.
To take a Pap smear, the vagina is held open with a speculum, the loose surface cells on the cervix are scraped using a specially shaped spatula and a brush, and the cells are spread on a microscope slide. At a laboratory the slide is stained, examined for abnormal cells and findings are reported.
Until recently the Pap smear has remained the principal technology for preventing cervical cancer. However, following a rapid review of the published literature, originally commissioned by NICE, liquid based cytology has been incorporated within the UK national screening programme. Although it was probably intended to improve on the accuracy of the Pap test, its main advantage has been to reduce the number of inadequate smears from around 9% to around 1%. This reduces the need to recall women for a further smear.
Automated technologies have been developed with the aim of improving on the interpretation of smears, normally carried out by cytotechnologists. Unfortunately these on the whole have proven less useful; although the more recent reviews suggest that generally they may be no worse than human interpretation.
The HPV test is a newer technique for cervical cancer triage which detects the presence of human papillomavirus infection in the cervix. It is more sensitive than the pap smear (less likely to produce false negative results), but less specific (more likely to produce false positive results) and its role in routine screening is still evolving. Since more than 99% of invasive cervical cancers worldwide contain HPV, some researchers recommend that HPV testing be done together with routine cervical screening. But, given the prevalence of HPV (around 80% infection history among the sexually active population) others suggest that routine HPV testing would cause undue alarm to carriers, more unnecessary follow-up testing and treatment. HPV testing along with cytology significantly increases the cost of screening.
Various experimental techniques, such as visual inspection using acetic acid, sometimes with special lights (speculoscopy), or taking pictures for expert evaluation (cervicography) have been evaluated as adjuncts to or replacements for Pap smear screening, especially in countries where Pap smear screening is prohibatively expensive. There are efforts to develop low cost HPV tests which might be used for primary screening of older women in less developed countries.
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