Cervical cancer affects the uterus, and normally starts in the lining of of the cervix (lower part of the uterus). The cervix is what connects the body of the uterus to the vagina.
Generally, the first cancerous cells start in the transformation zone; a zone where the different parts of the cervix (endocervix and exocervix) meet. Slowly, over time, these cells develop pre-cancerous changes that eventually turn into cancer. PAP smears can detect these pre-cancerous changes, so that the cervix can be treated before the pre-cancerous cells mature into cancer.
Long lasting infections wuch as HPV are known to cause almost all types of cervical cancer. Again, regular Pap tests will detect pre-cancerous cells, as well as HPV, and allow it to be treated before cancers form.
Sometimes though, a woman's body will address the pre-cancerous cells and get rid of them itself.
Stage zero: The cancer cells are only in the layer of cells lining the cervix. It hasn't invaded deeper tissues yet.
Stage one: There is a very small amount of cancer that can be seen with a microscope, though in stage b of stage one, the cancer cells can be seen without a microscope. In stage one, the cancer has yet to spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites.
Stage two: the cancer has grown beyond the cervix and uterus, but not to the walls of the pelvis or lower part of the vagina. It has not spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites either.
Stage three: it has spread to the pelvic walls or the lower part of the vagina. It has't spread to nearby lymph nodes or distant sites yet. May be blocking the ureters though.
Stage four: the most advanced stage of cervical cancer. The cancer has spread to nearby organs or different parts of the body. A is nearby sites, while B has spread to farther.
Some symptoms of cervical cancer would be:
Vaginal bleeding: Includes between periods, after menopause, or after sexual intercourse.
Unusual vaginal discharge: A watery, pink, sometimes foul-smelling discharge is common.
Some later stage symptoms that usually occur after the cancer has spread, would be:
Leg Pain or Swelling
Leakage of Urine or Feces From Vagina
For the most part though, cervical cancer is nearly undetectable in its early stages, making regular PAP smears an essential part of preventing and diagnosing cervical cancer.
HPV or Human Papilloma Virus is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer. Not all women who have HPV develop cervical cancer though. HPV has proteins that turn off the tumor suppressor genes in DNA, therefore allowing the cervix lining to grow especially thick, resulting in cancer sometimes.
There are other risk factors as well. These would include:
Having a Weakened Immune System
A Diet Low In Fruits or Vegetables
Being Over Weight
Long Term Use of Birth Control Pills
Interuterine Device Use
Among many other things
It has also been shown having a family history of cervical cancer is a risk factor, therefore the cancer could have genetic origins in some cases.
Prevention of cancer developing in the cervix mainly comes down to seeing your gynecologist regularly, as well as avoiding contact with HPV. If caught early enough, cervical cancer can be cured with either surgery or radiation combined with chemo.
For later stages, radiation combined with chemo is the main treatment. Chemo is used almost exclusively for advanced staged cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer has been known to run in families. One's chances of getting it are 2 or 3 times higher when one's mother or sister has had the disease. Some researchers, though, say that the pre-disposition might be linked to a familial tendency that makes some women more susceptible to HPV infection, which sometimes causes cervical cancer.
Socioeconomic factors may also play a role in a woman's chances of getting cervical cancer. Albeit, a rather indirect role, but a role nonetheless. Having a low-income will most likely result in a woman not being provided with adequate medical care, and therefore, no PAP smears or gynecologist visits. Having multiple, full-term pregnancies may also hike up a woman's risks at developing pre-cancerous cells in her cervix lining. Being younger than 17 when one becomes pregnant for the first time may also put a woman at risk.