Cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women. It originates in the cervix, which is the lowermost part of the uterus, that opens right on top of the vagina. Cervical cancer usually originates in the squamous cells of the cervix. Cervical cancer is very closely associated with HPV, or Human Papilloma Virus; most cases of cervical cancer can be rooted to an HPV infection in women. As cervical cancer is most commonly caused by an HPV infection, early diagnosis and treatment of the disease is possible.
The staging system for cervical cancer was set by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO). According to this system, there are, in all, four broad stages of cervical cancer. The prognosis and treatment for each of these stages is different; it depends on a lot of factors such as progress of the disease, age and health of the woman, tumor size and shape, etc.
Stage 3 Cervical Cancer
The staging of cervical cancer is done on the basis of clinical examination. Different tests such as colposcopy, hysteroscopy, cervical conization to name a few need to be carried out to detect and stage a case of cervical cancer. Cervical cancer can progress from the cervix to other parts of the female body. The tumor may metastasize from the cervix to the interior of the body, such as uterus, pelvic wall, pelvis, bladder and rectum; on the other hand, it may metastasize to the exterior of the body as well, viz., the middle and lower third of the vagina. It may also affect the functioning of kidneys.
Stage 3 cervical cancer is characterized by tumor in the cervix, and/or the pelvic wall. It may even involve tumor in the lower third of the vagina. As this stage progresses, normal functioning of kidneys may also be impaired. A painful condition called hydronephrosis may be observed in the patient; in this condition, the free flow of urine is obstructed. If left untreated, it may lead to renal failure as well.
An important aspect of any disease is the symptoms caused by the disease. As symptoms become evident, diagnosis can be carried out. However, cervical cancer may not always have evident symptoms. Due to this, a patient may already be suffering from stage 3 (or even stage 4) cervical cancer by the time she is diagnosed.
Prognosis of stage 3 cervical cancer is difficult. This is mainly because, as the cancer progresses to later stages, the treatment strategy used focuses more on treating local lesions rather than on whole body chemotherapy or radiology. Also the fact that it is a stage 3 cervical cancer indicates that a good measure of metastasis has already occurred; this means the disease has already progressed beyond the initial stages in which it can be cured. The 5-year relative survival rate of stage 3 cervical cancer is only around 25 to 35%. (As opposed to this, the overall 5-year relative survival rate of cervical cancer is around 72%.)
With respect to diseases such as cancer, prognosis is expressed in terms of "5-year relative survival rate". This is calculated by dividing total number of patients alive 5 years after diagnosis, by the total number of people of corresponding age, sex, etc., alive 5 years from diagnosis of patients. For a disease with high mortality, 5-year relative survival rates are very low, for example cancers. Cervical cancer, however, has a comparatively greater 5-year relative survival rate, at 72%; that of stage 1 cervical cancer is even more, at 92%.
Effective treatment of cervical cancer includes early diagnosis. Diagnosis of cervical cancer can be done by routine Pap smears. Pap smears help to identify a case of HPV infection in women. If this infection is effectively treated, an instance of cervical cancer can be avoided. An HPV infection can be detected by the presence of precancerous cells, which may progress to cancerous cells if the infection is not treated or if the precancerous tissue is not removed.
Treatment in the early stages focuses mainly on removal of the affected tissue (precancerous or cancerous). The invasiveness of this procedure can be controlled, so as to remove only the affected tissue without damaging the cervix, uterus or other organs. This will enable a woman to have children in the future.
However, if cervical cancer unfortunately goes undetected in the initial stages, then treatment strategies need to be changed. Stage 3 cervical cancer treatment strategy mainly includes hysterectomy. Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus but not the ovaries. If the tumor has metastasized to a greater extent, radical hysterectomy may also be required (removal of uterus and surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, and sometimes even the upper part of the vagina). Pelvic exenteration may also be done (removal of all pelvic organs, including bladder and rectum).
Finally, radiology, chemotherapy and other strategies used to treat other forms of cancer can also be used to treat cervical cancer that has spread beyond the pelvis. Internal radiation as well as external radiation may be used. As for chemotherapy, drugs like cisplatin, carboplatin, ifosfamide, cyclophosphamide, etc., are commonly used. Sometimes, radiology and chemotherapy may be used in combination, before and/or after a surgery.
The best way to protect yourself from cervical cancer is to routinely get your Pap smear done. According to the guidelines published on the PubMed Health website, if you are a sexually active woman, or if you are above 20 years of age and have never had a Pap smear done before, call your doctor today and inquire about Pap smears. One of the things about cervical cancer is that it is completely curable, IF diagnosed early enough. Pap smear is not even an invasive, painful or lengthy technique. It is a small step towards securing a healthy future.
Disclaimer: This article is purely for informative and educational purposes and does not advise. If users need medical advice, they should consult a doctor or other appropriate medical professionals.