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Cervical Cancer

The organ connecting the uterus and vagina is called the cervix, and cervical cancer forms in its tissues. It is usually slow-growing cancer that may not have symptoms but can be found with regular pap tests. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by human papillomavirus infection. Early detection is very important in cervical cancer. If all women had pelvic exams and Pap tests regularly, most precancerous conditions would be detected and treated before cancer develops. With this, most invasive cancers could be prevented and any invasive cancer that does occur would likely be found at an early, curable stage.

Precancerous changes that may occur do not usually cause pain, so, therefore, are often not detected unless a woman has a pelvic exam and a pap test. Symptoms usually do not appear until abnormal cervical cells become cancerous and invade nearby tissue. When this happens the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding. Menstrual bleeding may last longer and be heavier than usual. Bleeding after menopause and increased vaginal discharge is another symptom of cervical cancer. The pap test and pelvic exam allow the doctor to detect abnormal changes in the cervix. If the exam suggests something other than infection, other tests will be done to find out what the problem is. One of the most common tests is colposcopy in which they use a colposcope to look closely at the cervix. During this procedure, the doctor may remove a small amount of cervical tissue to be examined by a pathologist. Removing tissue may cause some bleeding or discharge, but healing usually occurs quickly. Some pain similar to menstrual cramping may also be experienced.

In some cases, it is not clear whether an abnormal pap test is caused by problems in the cervix or in the endometrium. If this should arise, the doctor may do a D and C (dilatation and curettage) to scrape tissue from the lining of the uterus as well as the cervical canal to determine where the problem is. Treatment for precancerous lesions depends on whether the lesion is low or high grade if the woman wants to have children in the future, age and general health, and the preference of the woman and her doctor. Some of these options are cryosurgery, cauterization, or laser surgery to destroy the abnormal area without harming nearby healthy tissue.

The choice of treatment for cervical cancer depends on the location and size of the tumor, the stage of the disease, a woman’s age, and general health. Staging is then done to determine if cancer has spread and if so to what parts. Blood tests, urine tests, CT scan, intravenous pyelogram, ultrasound, and MRI are usually done as well as a thorough pelvic exam in the operating room with the patient under anesthesia. Some of the procedures done are called cystoscopy and proctosigmoidoscopy. Once staging is complete your physician will go over all available treatment options for the diagnosis which include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biological therapy. A treatment plan will then be decided upon by you and your healthcare team.

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