What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer starts in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the opening from the vagina to the uterus.
What increases my risk of cervical cancer?
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN)
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Giving birth to more than one child
- Your mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while she was pregnant with you
- Weakened immune system from HIV infection or medicine for an organ transplant
What are the signs and symptoms of cervical cancer?
- Unusual vaginal bleeding after sex
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge between your normal monthly periods
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge after menopause
- Low back pain
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Your caregiver will do a pelvic exam. He will feel for problems with your cervix, uterus, and ovaries. You may also need any of the following:
- Papanicolaou (Pap) test: This test is done during a pelvic exam to find abnormal cells in the cervix. Cells are collected and sent to a lab for tests.
- Colposcopy: Caregivers use a small scope with a light on it to look more closely at your cervix and vagina.
- Biopsy: A small sample of tissue from your cervix may be taken during a colposcopy. The sample is sent to a lab and tested for abnormal cells.
- CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your abdomen and pelvis. The pictures may show the location and size of the cancer. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
- MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your abdomen and pelvis. An MRI may show changes to organs and blood vessels. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.
How is cervical cancer treated?
Treatment may decrease your symptoms or stop the cancer's spread. Ask your caregiver for more information about the treatment that you need. Your treatment may change if your cervical cancer grows or spreads:
- Trachelectomy: This is a surgery to remove the cervix and upper vagina. It may be an option if you have early stage cervical cancer and want to give birth to a child in the future.
- Hysterectomy: Hysterectomy is surgery to remove your uterus. Your fallopian tubes and ovaries may also be removed. Caregivers may also remove some nearby lymph nodes.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy beams of x-rays are used to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: These medicines are used to kill cancer cells.
What are the risks of cervical cancer?
- Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, and damage to nearby organs, such as the bowel. You may have problems urinating or having a bowel movement. Sex may be difficult or painful. After a hysterectomy, you will not be able to get pregnant. Cancer may come back, even with treatment, and be life-threatening.
- Cervical cancer can spread to other body areas, such as the bladder. When cancer spreads, it is called metastasis. Cancer that has spread may prevent other organs from working as they should. You may get a blood clot in your arm or leg. The clot may travel to your heart or brain and cause life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke.
How can I care for myself during treatment?
- Eat extra protein and calories: Foods may taste different during cancer treatment. You may not feel like eating, and you may lose weight. Ask for more information about the best eating plan for you. Do the following to help your body get the protein and calories it needs:
- Eat small meals every 2 to 3 hours.
- If you have stomach discomfort during the night, eat your last meal 2 to 3 hours before you go to bed. Raise the head of your bed, or sleep with your head up on pillows.
- Eat when you feel hungry. Vary your foods, and eat what you want to eat.
- Ask about adding nutritional bars and drinks to your eating plan.
- Drink most of your liquids between rather than with meals. Liquids can make you feel full faster and prevent you from eating enough calories.
- Eat small meals every 2 to 3 hours.
- Exercise: Ask your primary healthcare provider or oncologist about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise prevents muscle loss and can help you feel more like eating.
What can I do to help prevent cervical cancer?
- Practice safe sex: Use a new condom or latex barrier each time you have sex. This includes oral, vaginal, and anal sex. If you are allergic to latex, use a nonlatex product, such as polyurethane. Do not have multiple sex partners. Do not have sex with people if you do not know their sexual history.
- Do not smoke: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking increases your risk of cervical cancer. Ask for information if you need help quitting.
- Get regular Pap tests: Ask your caregiver when and how often to have a Pap test.
- Ask about the HPV vaccine: This vaccine may be given to certain women to help prevent an HPV infection.
Where can I find more information?
- National Cancer Institute
6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 300
Bethesda , MD 20892-8322
Phone: 1- 800 - 422-6237
Web Address: http://www.cancer.gov
When should I contact my caregiver?
Contact your caregiver if:
- You have a fever.
- You have new problems eating or drinking, or you have lost weight without trying.
- You have diarrhea, constipation, or stomach pain.
- You have swelling in your abdomen or legs.
- You have to urinate urgently and often, or you cannot hold your urine.
- You cannot urinate.
- You have difficulty or pain with sex.
When should I seek immediate care?
Seek care immediately or call 911 if:
- You are bleeding from your vagina or rectum.
- There is blood in your urine or bowel movement, or your bowel movements are black.
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
- You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
- You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You cough up blood.
You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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