Cervical cancer mainly effects women from the ages of 30-45, however it can affect younger or older women. Essentially, we should always be on the look out for changes in our bodies and menstural cycles.
In its early stages cervical cancer often doesn’t display any noticable symptoms and that is why smear tests are so important. Usually cervical cancer is slow growing and can be caught on a smear test.
You should seek advice from your GP if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Pain and/or bleeding during or after sex
- Bleeding between your periods
- Bleeding after your periods
- Unpleasant or unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain in your lower back or pelvis.
More advanced Cervical Cancers can cause symptoms like:
- Pain in your lower back or pelvis
- Severe pain in your side or back caused by your kidneys
- Peeing or pooing more often than normal
- Losing control of your bladder (urinary incontinence) or losing control of your bowels (bowel incontinence)
- Blood in your pee
- Swelling of one or both legs
- Severe vaginal bleeding
If you experience any of these symptoms then you must inform your GP immediately.
The majority of Cervical cancers are caused by the HPV virus.
As aforementioned cancer of the cervix usually takes a long time to develop. Thecells on the cervix often show those changes on your smear tests. These changes are known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) or less commonly, cervical glandular intraepithelial (CGIN), depending on which cells are effected.
CIN and CGIN are pre-cancerous condidions. This means they do not post an immediate threat to your health, but if they are not checked and treated then they could potentially develop into cancer.
However, even if you do develop a CIN or CGIN, the chances of them becoming cancerous are very slim, and if the changes are discoverd during a smear test, treatment is highly successful.
The progression from HPV infection to developng a CIN or CGIN and then cervical cancer is very slow, often taking 10 to 20 years.
HPV infection being very common yet cervical cancer relatively uncommon suffests that a small proportion of women are vulnerable to the effects of an HPV infection. There appear to be some additional riskfactors that affect a woman’s chance of developing cervical cancer that include:
- Smoking – women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer than those who do not smoke.
- Having a weakened immune system
- Taking the oral contraceptive pill for more than 5 years – this risk is not well understood.
- Having more than 5 children, or having them at an early age (under 17 years old)
- Your mother taking the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) whole pregnant with you – your GP can discuss these risks with you.
The reason for the link between cervical cancer and childbirth is unclear. One theroy is that the horonal changes that occur during pregnancy may make the cervix more vulnerable to the effects of HPV.