How i knew i had cervical cancer: Cervical cancer is a cancer of the reproductive organs. The symptoms are difficult to notice. However, there are tests that can find abnormal cells before they become cancerous. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to have regular gynecological checkups.
What is cervical cancer?
Cancer can start anywhere in the body. Cervical cancer begins in the cervix when cells grow uncontrollably there, outnumbering normal cells. This makes it hard for the body to function the way it should.
Cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. Sometimes cancer cells from the cervix can spread to the lung and grow there. When cancer cells spread, it is called metastasis. To doctors, the cancer cells in the new site look just like the ones that started in the cervix.
Cancer is always named after the place where it originated. Therefore, if cervical cancer spreads to the lungs (or anywhere else), it is still called cervical cancer. Only cancer that has started in the lung can be called lung cancer.
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus. It connects the uterus to the vagina (pelvic canal), which leads to the outside of the body.
Types of cervical cancer?
There are several types of cervical cancer, and your doctor can give you more information about which type you have.
The most common type is called squamous cell carcinoma which starts in the cells that cover the surface of the cervix.
Questions for the doctor
- Why do you think I have cancer?
- Is there any chance that it’s not cancer?
- Could you write me the name of the type of cancer that you think I have?
- What comes after diagnosis?
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Most people with a high-risk type of HPV that can cause cervical cancer will never have symptoms until it has become very dangerous. That is why it is so important to have regular gynecological check-ups. In many cases, cervical cancer can be prevented when abnormal cell changes are found early and treated BEFORE they turn into cancer.
When cervical cancer occurs, early signs include:
- Have abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting, or discharge.
- Having heavier periods than normal.
- Have bleeding after sex.
Signs of advanced cervical cancer can include pain in the pelvic area, problems urinating (peeing), and swelling in the legs. If the cancer has spread to nearby organs, it can also affect how well those organs work. For example, a tumor could press on your bladder and make you feel like urinating more often.
Some symptoms of cervical cancer can also be caused by other conditions, such as vaginal yeast infection. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor or nurse, or the Planned Parenthood health center nearest you, to find out what’s wrong.
How is cervical cancer screening done?
Cervical cancer screening is used to detect infections or abnormal cells in your cervix that can cause cancer. The Pap test and the human papilloma test are two types of cervical cancer screening tests. Both tests are simple and fast.
A human papilloma test is used to detect high-risk types of the virus, which can cause cancer of the reproductive organs. You may just have a human papilloma test, or you may also have a Pap smear. When both tests are done at the same time, it is called a joint test. When the human papilloma test is not available, you may only get a Pap test.
The Papanicolaou test (called Pap or Pap smear in English), can detect abnormal cells caused by human papilloma, but it does not detect cancer or the human papillomavirus. Your doctor or nurse can monitor affected areas and treat them before they turn into something more serious.
Gynecologic checkups usually include a Pap smear or human papilloma test, as needed. Most people only need to have these tests every 5 years, because cancer takes a long time to develop. Your doctor or nurse will tell you how often you should be tested.
How i knew i had cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer often does not cause signs or symptoms until it has spread outside the cervix.
Some signs of cervical cancer are:
- Bleeding from the vagina that is not from your period.
- Vaginal spotting or discharge.
- Pain during intercourse.
Your doctor will ask about your health and do a physical and pelvic exam.
If signs indicate it may be cervical cancer, more tests will be done. The following are some tests that may be needed:
• Colposcopy : A detailed examination of the inside of the vagina and cervix using a camera with a light source at the end of a tube called a colposcope.
• Pap smear: A test to scrape cells from the cervix to check for cancer or pre-cancer.
• Cervical biopsy: In a biopsy, the doctor takes a small amount of tissue to check for cancer cells. There are many ways to do a cervical biopsy. Ask your doctor what type of biopsy you need. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have cancer.
• Computerized tomography: This study is known in English as a CT or CAT scan . This is a special kind of x-ray that takes detailed pictures to see if the cancer has spread. A CT scan may also be used to help perform a biopsy (see below).
• MRI scans: This test shows soft tissue parts of the body sometimes better than other imaging tests, such as CT scans. Your doctor will decide which imaging test is most appropriate.
• Chest x-ray: An x-ray may be done to see if the cancer has spread to the lungs.
• Positron emission tomography scan: In this test, you are given a special kind of sugar that can be seen inside your body with a special camera. If there is cancer, this sugar shows up as “radioactive glowing spots” where the cancer is. This test can help tell if the cancer has spread.
• Blood tests: Blood tests are not used to find cervical cancer, but are done to tell the doctor more about your health.
Questions for the doctor
- What tests will I need to have?
- Who will perform these tests?
- Where will they take place?
- Who can explain the tests to me?
- How and when will I receive the results?
- Who will explain the results to me?
- What is the next thing I need to do?
How serious is my cancer?
If you have cervical cancer, your doctor will want to find out how far it has spread. This is called determining the stage (staging) of the cancer (staging). You may have heard other people say that the cancer was “stage 1” or “stage 2.” Your doctor will want to know the stage of your cancer to help decide which type of treatment is best for you.
The stage describes the growth or spread of the cancer through the cervix. It also tells if the cancer has spread to nearby organs or to more distant places.
Your cancer may be stage 1, 2, 3, or 4. The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage 4, means a more serious cancer that has spread outside the cervix. Be sure to ask your doctor about the stage of your cancer and what it might mean for you.
Questions for the doctor
- Do you know the stage of the cancer?
- If not, how and when will you know the stage of the cancer?
- Could you explain to me what the stage means in my case?
- Based on the stage of the cancer, how long do you think I will live?
- What comes after diagnosis?
What kind of treatment will I need?
There are many ways to treat cervical cancer. The treatment plan that is best for you will depend on:
- The stage of the cancer.
- The likelihood that some type of treatment will cure you or be helpful in some way.
- Your age.
- Other health problems you have.
- Your opinion about the treatment and its side effects.
Surgery for cervical cancer
In most women with cervical cancer, some type of surgery is used.
This treatment kills cancer cells by freezing them. It can be used to treat abnormal cells from precancers that may turn into cancer if left untreated.
This treatment uses a laser to burn cancer cells. It can be used to treat pre-cancers.
This procedure is also called a cone biopsy. A small, cone-shaped piece is removed from the part of the cervix that contains cancer or pre-cancer.
The uterus and cervix are removed when a hysterectomy is done Hysterectomy is the most common way to treat cervical cancer. There are many ways to do this surgery.
Sometimes the ovaries are removed at the same time. Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed to check for cancer cells.
Ask your doctor which type of surgery you need. Each type has risks and benefits.
Side effects of surgery
In any type of surgery there can be risks and side effects. Be sure to ask your doctor what risks and side effects you can expect. If you have any problems, tell your doctors. Doctors who treat women with cervical cancer can help you with any problems that come up.
Radiation uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells.
It can be delivered to the cervix from a machine outside the body, known as external beam radiation. Or a radioactive source (such as a seed) may be placed inside the vagina, near the cervix. This is known as brachytherapy.
Side effects of radiation treatments
If your doctor suggests radiation therapy as a treatment, ask what side effects might occur. Side effects depend on the type of radiation used. The most common side effects of radiation are:
- Skin changes where the radiation was given.
- Feel very tired.
Most side effects get better after treatment ends. However, some may last longer. Talk to your cancer care team about what side effects to expect.
Chemo is short for chemotherapy; the use of drugs to fight cancer. Medicines are usually given through a vein. These drugs enter the blood and pass throughout the body. Chemotherapy is applied in cycles or series of treatment. Each treatment series is followed by a rest period. Most of the time, chemotherapy involves two or more drugs, and treatment usually lasts for many months.
When chemotherapy and radiation therapy are given at the same time, it is called chemo radiation.
Chemotherapy side effects
Chemotherapy can make you feel tired, sick to your stomach, or cause your hair to fall out. But these side effects go away after the treatment ends.
There are ways to treat most side effects caused by chemotherapy. If you have side effects, be sure to tell your cancer care team so they can help you.
Targeted therapy does not work like chemotherapy because these drugs mainly affect cancer cells and not normal cells. These drugs cause different side effects than chemotherapy.
Immunotherapy is treatment that stimulates your immune system or uses artificial versions of parts of the immune system that attack cervical cancer cells. These medicines are given through a vein.
Immunotherapy side effects
Immunotherapy can cause many different side effects depending on the drug used. These medicines may cause tiredness, upset stomach, or skin rashes. Most of these problems go away after treatment ends.
There are a few ways to treat most side effects caused by immunotherapy. If you have side effects, talk to your cancer care team so they can help you.
What is the opinion regarding other treatments that I have heard about?
You may learn of other ways to treat cancer or its symptoms. They may not always be conventional medical treatments. These treatments may include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, among other things. You may have concerns about these treatments.
Some of these methods are known to be useful, but many have not been tested. It has been seen that some of them are not useful, others can even be dangerous. Talk to your doctor about anything you’re considering, whether it’s a vitamin, a diet, or any other method.
Questions for the doctor
- What treatment do you consider to be the best for me?
- What is the goal of this treatment? Do you think it could cure cancer?
- Will the treatment include surgery? If so, who will do the surgery?
- What will the experience of undergoing surgery be like?
- Will I be able to have children after surgery?
- Will I need to receive other types of treatment as well?
- What is the goal of these treatments?
- What side effects might I experience from these treatments?
- Will the treatment cause premature menopause?
- Will my sex life change after treatment?
- What can I do if I start having side effects?
- Are there any clinical trials that may be right for me?
- What do you think about the vitamins or special diets that my friends have mentioned to me? How will I know if they are safe?
- How soon do I need to start treatment?
- What should I do to prepare for treatment?
- Is there anything I can do to help make the treatment more effective?
- What is the next step?
What will happen after the treatment?
You will feel satisfaction when completing the treatment. However, it’s hard not to worry about the cancer coming back. Even when the cancer never comes back, people tend to still worry. After finishing your treatment, you will need to see a doctor for several years. Be sure to keep all follow-up appointments with your doctor. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms, perform physical exams and blood tests, and may do other tests to see if the cancer has come back. You will also need to continue scheduled routine screening tests regardless of the treatment you received.
At first your appointments will be scheduled often. Then, the longer you’ve been cancer-free, the fewer appointments you’ll need.
Coping with cancer and dealing with treatment can be difficult, but it can also be a time for new changes in your life. You probably want to know how you can help improve your health. Talk to your doctor to find out what you can do to feel better.
You cannot change the fact that you have cancer. What you can change is the way you will live the rest of your life by making decisions that benefit your health and feel as good as possible.