Cancer

Understanding Cervical Cancer

HPV

Cervical cancer is a malignant tumor of the cervix and in most cases is caused by a long-term infection with human papillomavirus (HPV).

 Understanding HPV
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that are very common worldwide. It is estimated that 80% of people at some time in their life will have been exposed to HPV.
  • The majority of HPV infections do not cause symptoms or disease and resolve spontaneously without any intervention. A small proportion of infections with certain types of HPV can persist and progress to cancer.
  • HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact. It can be passed on even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms.
  • There are more than 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 are cancer-causing. Two HPV types (16 and 18) cause 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions. If untreated, these lesions may progress to cervical cancer.
  • Some types of HPV cause other cancers.  Non-cancer causing types of HPV can cause highly-infectious genital warts.

Prevention

Cervical cancer is easily prevented.  Most prevention programs consist of vaccination to avoid the spread of the cervical cancer-causing HPV virus, screening to detect pre-cancer lesions and early intervention to remove abnormal cells.  

HPV Vaccination
There are three vaccines available that protect against the two types of HPV that cause the majority of cervical cancer cases. These vaccines work best if administered prior to exposure to HPV. Therefore, it is preferable to administer them before first sexual activity.
CerviCusco administers the quadrivalent (Gardasil) HPV vaccine, beginning at age 9  through the age of 26 for both males and females.  This vaccine can reduce the risk of cervical cancer by 70% and the risk of genital warts by 90%.
The HPV vaccine is not a substitute for cervical cancer screening and does not treat HPV infections or HPV-related cancers.  However, HPV vaccination is the best way to prevent cervical and other types of cancer.    

Pap, HPV and VIA Tests
Women who have no symptoms and feel perfectly healthy may still unknowingly have cervical precancer or cancer. Screening tests for cervical cancer can detect these pre-cancerous lesions before they become cancer. Once detected early, these lesions can be successfully treated  thereby preventing the development of cervical cancer.
It is important to be screened regularly.  In Peru, the Ministry of Health recommends that all women between 25 and 55 years have cervical cancer screening tests annually.
There are 3 different types of screening tests currently available:

  • Pap tests: liquid-based Pap test and the conventional Pap test
  • Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA)
  • HPV testing for high-risk HPV types
Currently, CerviCusco uses the modern liquid-based Pap test to screen women for cervical cancer. VIA is used for screening women when financial resources are severely limited. HPV testing is now used to screen women primarily living in resource-rich countries.

Diagnosis

Colposcopy
Colposcopy is a diagnostic examination to evaluate women with abnormal Pap test results. Cervical lesions may be identified during colposcopy and biopsies may be obtained to confirm the diagnosis. The results from the colposcopy exam help determine proper management. CerviCusco offers internationally renowned colposcopy services.

Treatment

Surgery, Radiation Therapy, Chemotherapy
Women who have cervical precancers can be treated by surgery. In most cases, this procedure may be easily performed in the office. CerviCusco offers state-of-the-art microsurgery. Those women identified as having cervical cancer require surgery for early stage cancer. However, for advanced cervical cancer, women require treatment with radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Symptoms

Most women who have cervical cancer have no symptoms. However, symptoms of cervical cancer tend to appear only after the cancer has reached an advanced stage and may include:

  • Irregular, intermenstrual (between periods) or abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Back, leg or pelvic pain
  • Fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite
  • Vaginal discomfort or odorous discharge
  • A single swollen leg
More severe symptoms may arise at advanced stages.