Cervical Cancer – Causes & Symptoms

The early detection and treatment of cervical cancer, as with many other types of cancer, is crucial for a successful recovery process. If found early – detection is typically brought about by a Pap test, which may be administered after symptoms are noted, after someone has sexual contact with someone else who already has the disease, or as a regular test – it is possible to treat and cure cancer. This is not impossible with late detection, but recovery rates do fall as the disease moves into a more advanced stage.

The Role of HPV

The main cause of cervical cancer is the virus known as human papillomavirus, commonly shortened to HPV. A person could be infected with this virus and not know what has occurred for months or even years as it stays dormant, but it could develop into cervical cancer at any time. It can be detected by a Pap test at any stage, which is why many women get these regularly, even if they have no reason to believe that they have contracted the virus or developed cancer. These tests are the most reliable way to guarantee early detection, perhaps even before the virus has turned into cancer – the stage in which abnormal cells on the lower part of the uterus begin to mutate and grow irregularly and uncontrollably.

It is true that HPV does not lead to cancer in all cases. Much of the time, it just leads to an infection in the cervix, which the body can fight off and defeat on its own, without treatment. However, if the body does not eliminate the infection, the cells on the cervix could be altered, turning them into pre-cancerous cells. They could remain stagnant for some time before actually developing into cancerous cells, which the body is nearly powerless to fight on its own due to the release of chemicals by those cells that instruct the body’s defense systems not to attack them.

HPV Statistics: The Cancer Connection

Between the years of 2004 and 2008, a study was conducted that showed that 33,300 cancers occurred in the United States that were linked to HPV. The study found that 21,300 of these cases were related to females, while 12,100 were related to males. Of all of these, cervical cancer was found to be the most common.

Of all anal and cervical cancers that are reported, HPV is credited to causing an incredible 90 percent of the cases. In fact, a study showed that, of an estimated 32,000 cases of cancer every year that occur in places where HPV could be found, 26,200 of those cases were in fact linked to the virus.

On the whole, it is known that a staggering 79 million people in the United States have an HPV infection. This total increases by about 14 million people per year. Some estimates suggest that almost everyone in the United States who is sexually active will contract HPV in their lifetime.

The Symptoms

It is very important to note that cervical cancer that is showing symptoms in daily life is already going to be very advanced, in the later stages of the disease. There are usually no symptoms in the early stages. Once they do begin to develop, however, the symptoms generally show themselves as some sort of bleeding, such as bleeding after sexual intercourse, whenever something – such as a diaphragm – comes into contact with the vagina, or in a vaginal discharge. The cancer could also be identified if there is significant pain during sexual intercourse.

Aside from these symptoms of cervical cancer, HPV can have its own symptoms. It could cause genital warts, which are small bumps around the genitals that vary in size and can be either flat or raised. These warts could, with a condition known as RRP, also grow in the throat. However, the type of HPV that causes genital warts does not usually lead to cancer as well. Furthermore, HPV could lead to changes in the cells near the cervix even before cancer is present, causing them to mutate or grow abnormally.

The Pap Test

As noted, the Pap test is the best way to detect cervical cancer, and it will show signs of the disease long before symptoms would be noticeable. The test is conducted by taking a sample of cells from the cervix during a pelvic exam. These cells are then analyzed to see if there are any abnormal changes or developments. If there does appear to be non-standard growth, further tests are done to determine if cancer is truly the cause. This test is usually conducted once a year, but it could be carried out at any time if there are symptoms of cervical cancer already present.

New Cases in the United States

In 2013, there were 12,340 cases of cervical cancer that were diagnosed. Out of all of these cases, there were 4,030 deaths, putting the disease at roughly a 30 percent mortality rate. Many of these deaths were the result of late detection, when treatments were not able to slow or stop the disease. In 2010, there were 11,818 women who were diagnosed with cancer, and it lead to 3,939 deaths.

The total numbers are slightly on the rise, with older estimates sitting around roughly 10,000 cases per year. However, the mortality rate was higher since there were still around 4,000 deaths per year, even with the lower totals. The changes are due to increased awareness and testing, which lead to early detection and a higher survival rate.

The Impact of Age

Studies in the UK have shown that age is linked to cervical cancer, as it is to many other types of cancer. However, cervical cancer is uncommon in that it peaks at two different points, rather than steadily rising. The first peak is from the ages of 30 to 34; out of every 100,000 women, there are around 21 new cases in this age group. The second peak is in women from 80 to 84, though it is slightly lower, at just 13 out of every 100,000 women. This cancer does tend to arrive earlier than some people expect, with a full 78 percent of all of the cases impacting women between the ages of 24 and 65, though with virtually no cases before the age of 24.