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How do I Know if I Have Cervical Cancer?

written by: N Nayab • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 8/28/2010

Do I have cervical cancer? The symptoms of cervical cancer remain inconclusive and the only reliable way to find out is through regular pap tests.

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    Do I Have Cervical Cancer? Normal body cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them, and die when they grow old or get damaged. Cancer occurs when this process goes wrong, and when new cells form without the body needing such new cells, or when the old or damaged cells do not die.

    Cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens to the vagina. Like all cell growths, cervical growths are either benign or malignant. Benign growths such as polyps, cysts, or genital warts do not invade the issues around them and do not cause cancer. Malignant growths that cause cancer have their origin in the cells on the surface of the cervix, and soon spread to other parts of the body. Such malignant growth break away from the original tumor and invade nearby tissues and organs, and if left unchecked cause threat to life.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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    Causes

    The major cause for cervical cancer is human papilloma virus (HPV), which spreads through sexual contact. Not all HPV however develop into cervical cancer, and even when it does, the virus usually remains latent for years before developing cancerous properties. The symptoms may therefore be absent during the initial stages of cervical cancer, and the signs of cancer might start to manifest only when the growth reaches an advanced stage.

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    Early Symptoms

    The following are the major signs & symptoms of cervical cancer, especially during the early stages:

    • Unnatural bleeding from the vagina, or unexpected change in menstrual cycle
    • Bleeding when something comes in contact with the cervix, such as during sex or when putting in a diaphragm.
    • Bleeding after menopause
    • Moderate pain during sex
    • Vaginal discharge tinged with blood

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    Advanced Symptoms

    Cervical cancer developing into an advanced stage could lead to some additional symptoms. The symptoms of advanced cervical cancer include:

    • Loss of appetite
    • Loss of weight for no apparent reason
    • Constant fatigue
    • Frequent pain in pelvic area
    • Constant back pain
    • Relentless leg pain
    • Single swollen leg
    • Heavy vaginal bleeding for no apparent reason,
    • Leaking of urine or feces from the vagina
    • Bone fractures without apparent cause

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    Risk Factors

    Neither the early symptoms nor the advanced symptoms of cervical cancer are unique to the disease, and the symptoms are more often than not caused by infection or other health problems. This raise the risk of the cancer remaining undiagnosed until it reaches an advanced stage.

    The American Cancer Society lists smoking, HIV infection, chlamydia infection, stress and stress-related disorders, dietary factors, hormonal contraception, multiple pregnancies, exposure to the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) and a family history of cervical cancer, apart from infection of HPV virus as factors that place a person in risk of cervical cancers.

    If you are wondering, "do I have Cervical Cancer?", note that while the symptoms remain inconclusive, the best way of early detection is though routine Pap tests, especially for those who fall under the risk factors and who encounter the symptoms. Pap test identifies changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer, and help take remedial measures that preempt the development of malignant cancerous cells.

    Cervical cancer is curable, but very often requires hysterectomy and removal of pelvic lymph nodes with or without removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes, causing loss of reproductive capacity.

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    This article is not intended to treat, and does not constitute medical advice. Please contact a certified medical practitioner to find out the signs & symptoms of cervical cancer, diagnosis and treatment.

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    References

    1. Medicinenet.com. Cervical Cancer. http://www.medicinenet.com/cervical_cancer/article.htm
    2. WebMD.com. Cervical Cancer. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/cervical-cancer/cervical-cancer-topic-overview?page=2
    3. American Cancer Society. What is cervical cancer?. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CervicalCancer/DetailedGuide/cervical-cancer-what-is-cervical-cancer