Cervical Cancer Definition and Meaning
The cervical or cervical carcinoma is a malignant transformation of the cervical tissue. If the cancer is diagnosed in good time, the disease is almost 100 percent curable.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer, also known as cervical cancer in medical jargon, is a collective term for all malignant changes in the area of the cervix. The cervix is the area of the female body that connects the vagina with the uterus.
The disease occurs more frequently between the ages of 35 and 55 and after the age of 65. In Germany around 6,000 women develop this disease every year.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is papillomavirus (HPV) infection during unprotected sex.
The main cause of cervical cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus; this usually happens during unprotected sexual intercourse. These infections are by no means rare – 80 percent of the German population will be infected with this virus at least once in their life.
Most of the affected patients do not notice this infection, especially since it usually does not cause any pain. The virus remains in the body in only 20 percent of patients and cervical cancer develops from it in only five percent of those affected.
Of course, other factors also favor this cancer, including smokers are affected significantly more often and even with a weakened immune system, for example an HIV infection, the risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly higher.
Experts also consider the use of hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, to be a risk factor for the onset of cervical cancer. This virus can also cause other symptoms, including skin or genital warts.
The Robert Koch Institute has therefore been recommending getting vaccinated against these viruses since 2007 – this applies in particular to young girls between the ages of 12 and 17.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
In the early stages of cervical cancer, there are often no symptoms at all. However, irregular bleeding and a whitish, foul-smelling discharge are sometimes observed at this stage. Bleeding after intercourse can also occur. Often, however, these symptoms also occur in other much more harmless diseases, so that they are non-specific.
Only in the advanced stage of the disease do the symptoms become more specific and then give an indication of the cancer. In the early stages, however, almost all patients can still be completely cured. However, the chances of a cure decrease as the cancer progresses. If the lymphatic system is already affected, lymphedema develops, which is noticeable as swelling of the legs.
Often the urine is also colored red from bleeding from the bladder or urinary tract. Urinary tract infections are also common. When the cancer has spread to the pelvis and spine, deep back pain radiating into the pelvis occurs. Furthermore, severe abdominal pain caused by intestinal paralysis, which is caused by cancer of the abdominal intestines, is possible.
At the same time, normal bowel movements are disturbed. A clear sign of advanced cancer is severe and inexplicable weight loss. Ultimately, death occurs after many organs have been infected with the tumor from multiple organ failure.
Due to the location of the cervix, this type of cancer can usually be recognized at an early stage. If you have yourself checked by your gynecologist on a regular basis, there is a good chance that you will be recognized at an early stage. Detected at an early stage, this form of cancer is 100 percent curable.
This type of cancer does not cause any symptoms in the early stages, and even if the cancer is more advanced, most patients hardly complain of symptoms. Occasionally, however, symptoms such as a foul smelling or bloody discharge as well as spotting after sexual intercourse can occur.
Pain when urinating or when defecating are by no means uncommon. Legs that are swollen on one side can indicate this disease, as can indefinable stomach, pelvic or back pain.
In most cases, complications from cervical cancer only arise when treatment is started too late and therefore the cancer is already advanced. If diagnosed early, cervical cancer can be cured relatively well so that there are no further symptoms or complications. Cervical cancer causes various complaints in the vagina area.
Disturbances of the bleeding cycle and increased bleeding can occur. These also occur outside of your period. There is also an increased vaginal discharge. The complaints reduce the quality of life of the person concerned. Due to the lack of pain, cervical cancer can unfortunately only be diagnosed late, which is why it is very important to attend preventive examinations.
The cancer can also cause pain in the back or stomach in some cases. It is not uncommon for the legs to be swollen. Surgery can usually remove the cancer without complications if it is not far advanced.
In severe cases, chemotherapy or radiation is necessary. In most cases, however, the cancer can be defeated relatively well, so that there are no further complications. If the disease progresses positively, there is no reduction in life expectancy.
When should you go to the doctor?
A doctor should be consulted as soon as there are symptoms in the abdomen. If there are irregular menstrual periods, pain or cramps, a medical examination should take place. It is advisable to consult a doctor if the menstrual period is shortened or greatly prolonged, intermenstrual bleeding occurs repeatedly, and bleeding occurs after the menopause. If you experience discomfort during sex or if you can see swelling of the abdomen, you need to see a doctor.
In principle, you should take part in the annual check-ups at the gynecologist. There the cervix is palpated and a swab of the vaginal fluid is examined in a laboratory. With this cancer screening, the cancer can be recognized before the first symptoms occur. If the woman suffers from a general feeling of illness, weakness or fatigue for several weeks, she should consult a doctor. If there is a change in discharge from the vagina or an unusual odor formation in the genital area, this information must be clarified by a doctor.
If you can feel irregularities in the cervix through your own palpation in the vaginal canal or if you experience discomfort when using tampons, you should see a doctor. In the event of a feeling of pressure in the abdomen, inner restlessness or reduced performance, it is advisable to consult a doctor to clarify the cause. Persistent pain in the pelvis, abdomen, or back should be evaluated and treated.
Treatment & Therapy
In most cases of cervical cancer, a small surgical intervention on the cervix, the so-called conization, is sufficient. Laser surgery can also promise good healing prospects in the early stages. Another advantage of these two treatment methods is that the uterus is completely preserved. Later pregnancies after the procedure are still possible.
If the cervical cancer is more advanced, however, major surgery or, if necessary, radiation therapy must be carried out. In individual cases, this is also combined with chemotherapy. Doctors also differentiate between cervical cancer and a preliminary stage of this disease. In this case, the irregularities of the cells often recede on their own.
If such irregularities have been diagnosed, you should have swabs of the vagina performed at regular intervals. If this cell change persists for a long time, the doctor may need to remove the affected area. So treatment depends primarily on how far the cancer has progressed.
Regular follow-up examinations after the end of therapy are necessary in order to detect a recurrence of the cervical cancer at an early stage and to be able to take countermeasures. Follow-up visits generally take place every three months for the first three years, and then twice a year for two years. After five years of freedom from symptoms, a check-up is only necessary once a year.
The individual risk of relapse is heavily dependent on the type and size of the original tumor, the therapy carried out and the general condition of the patient: In individual cases, check-ups at significantly shorter intervals may be advisable. A follow-up examination usually consists of a detailed discussion, a comprehensive physical and gynecological examination including cell smear and vaginal ultrasound, as well as a blood and urine test.
Ultrasound examinations of the kidneys and a mammography are performed at longer intervals. X-ray examinations of the lungs, an ultrasound examination of the liver and computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are only performed in exceptional cases where there is a high risk of relapse. The mental follow-up care of the patient is of great importance.
The psychological stress caused by cancer can be significantly alleviated by talking to a therapist or visiting a self-help group. To restore physical performance after chemotherapy or radiation therapy, medical rehabilitation measures are recommended in many cases: This can take place in an inpatient rehabilitation clinic, on an inpatient or outpatient basis.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis for cervical cancer depends heavily on when it is detected. In the preliminary stages, it can be treated so well that sometimes no aggressive cancer therapy is required at all. A small surgical procedure is enough; Depending on the severity, the woman is also fertile afterwards and can have children.
In the early stages, the chances of survival with cervical cancer are also very good. In most cases, however, cancer therapy must now be expected so that the cancer can regress completely. Detection this early, however, means in most cases that the cancer is actually curable.
If cervical cancer is discovered late, however, more invasive surgical procedures are necessary. Even now there is often still a chance of complete healing, but this goes hand in hand with the partial or complete removal of the uterus. If the cervical cancer has already spread, other (reproductive) organs must also be removed. In addition, the patient must expect to have to undergo chemotherapy.
In the case of advanced cervical cancer, it is unfortunately not uncommon for the woman to become sterile as a result of the treatment or for the cancer itself to attack the uterus so severely that pregnancy is no longer possible. In these cases, however, egg cells can be removed before the start of cancer therapy so that a desire for children can be fulfilled in an alternative way.
You can do that yourself
The cancer must be treated and treated by a doctor. The sick person can support their well-being with their own means and stabilize the psyche. However, relieving physical symptoms requires a doctor and, in most cases, surgery.
Some of those affected feel that contact with self-help groups is mentally strengthening. There, sick women and women who have already recovered can exchange ideas, help and motivate each other under protected conditions. Relaxation techniques have also proven effective in many patients.
Through meditation, autogenic training or yoga, a mental strength can be developed that contributes to new confidence and optimism. A stable social environment and the opportunity to talk about emotional issues also help immensely in everyday life. This allows fears to be discussed and reduced. It can also be helpful to use a therapist.
In addition, a healthy diet and adequate exercise promote general wellbeing. A balanced and vitamin-rich food intake strengthens the immune system and protects against additional susceptibility to disease. Walks or sporting activities that are adapted to the possibilities of the sick improve the quality of life in everyday life. By spending time in an appealing way, positive moments can be created in the patient’s life, which contribute to promoting the joy of life.