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What are the Cervix and the Uterus?
The cervix and the uterus are part of a woman’s reproductive system. The cervix lies between the vagina and uterus. The uterus is also known as the womb and is where a baby grows and develops when a woman is pregnant. The cervix is will dilate, or open, to allow a baby being born to exit the uterus through the vagina and enter the world.
Cervical cancer and uterine cancer are gynecologic cancers, or cancers of a woman’s reproductive organs. Often, there are no signs of cervical or uterine cancer until the condition is well advanced. Regular gynecologic exams are important.
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Cervical cancer begins as the precancerous condition dysplasia, in which the cells of the cervix have abnormal growth. Human papilloma virus, or HPV, is the primary cause of cervical dysplasia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. You will likely not even know you have cervical dysplasia until your Pap smear results come back abnormal. Cervical dysplasia is 100 percent treatable when caught early, advises the National Library of Medicine.
Cervical dysplasia is not cancer. But left untreated, it can develop into cervical cancer. Pap tests screen for dysplasia, but cervical dysplasia is only definitively diagnosed with a cervical biopsy.
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Abnormal bleeding is usually the presenting symptom of uterine cancer (often called endometrial cancer), according to the National Cancer Institute, and may also occur with advanced cervical cancer. Any abnormal vaginal or uterine bleeding should be cause for concern. Both cervical and uterine cancer can cause heavy or prolonged bleeding, frequent bleeding, bleeding between periods, bleeding after intercourse, or bleeding after menopause.
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Abnormal vaginal discharge can be a sign for both cervical and uterine cancer. In cervical cancer, vaginal discharge may be watery and foul-smelling, pale, pink, brown or bloody. Endometrial cancer (cancer of the lining of the uterus) is the most common type of uterine cancer and usually occurs after menopause in women between the ages of 60 and 70. In endometrial uterine cancer, vaginal discharge may appear as thin white or clear secretions after menopause, according to the National Library of Medicine.
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Tumors often press on the structures of your pelvis. You may have trouble urinating due to blockage of a kidney, warns the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation. Pelvic pain or pressure or pain during or after intercourse may be signs of cervical or uterine cancer. Pelvic pressure is usually felt as a dull ache in your lower abdomen. Sometimes there is sharper pain. Often it will radiate to your back and legs. As with abnormal bleeding, any prolonged pelvic pain or pressure should prompt a visit to the doctor.
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Be aware of your body and its symptoms. Remember that cervical cancer is a slow-growing cancer that often has no symptoms until more advanced stages, and it is vitally important to have regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. Uterine cancer has no screening test, but you and your doctor should be aware of any risk factors you may have for uterine cancer.
Keep in mind, too, that the signs and symptoms listed above may not be only signs of cervical or uterine cancer; they may also pertain to conditions other than cancer. The surest way to know is to seek medical attention.