What You Need To Know
Cervical Cancer begins in the lining of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus which connects the body of the uterus to the vagina. Cervical cancer can grow at a very slow or rapid pace, but can easily be detected by a pap test. Over 12,000 women are affected by cervical cancer each year and most are between the ages of 20-50. Although cervical cancer is more common among women younger than 50, it is still important for women over 50 to undergo a routine pap test in order to rule out cervical cancer.
There are virtually no signs or symptoms of cervical cancer. That is why it is important for women to have an annual pap test to rule out cervical cancer. However, you should consult a doctor if you are experience the following symptoms:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (after sex, after menopause, spotting or bleeding between periods, or heavier or longer periods than usual)
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain during sex
The most common risk factor for Cervical Cancer is Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Infection. HPV is a group of viruses that can infect HPV is passed from skin-to-skin contact and can infect skin cells, cause genital warts, or cervical cancer. HPV is commonly passed by vagina, anal, or oral sex – but in truth, is passed by any type of skin-to-skin contact. There is no cure for HPV, but treatments do exist for the abnormal cell growth they cause. There are also two different vaccines to help prevent some types of HPV, Gardasil® and Cervarix®. Other risk factors of cervical cancer include:
- HIV/Weak Immune System
- Use of Birth Control Pills
- Number of Pregnancies
- Young Age (Under 18) at first full-term pregnancy
- Family History
Luckily, most cervical cancers are preventable. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to undergo an annual Pap test. According to the American Cancer Society, women should begin routine pap tests 3 years after they become sexually active (through vaginal intercourse), or after age 21. It is important not to confuse a routine pelvic exam, which is when a gynecologist looks at and feels a women’s reproductive organs and a pap test, which is when a gynecologist gently scrapes mucus and cells from the cervix by inserting an instrument through the vagina.
Another way to prevent cervical cancer is to avoid exposure to HPV. This can be done in the following ways:
- Delay sex
- Use condoms
- Limit sex partners
- Have sex with circumcised males
- Get the HPV vaccine
What We Can Do To Help
We are fortunate that cervical cancer is preventable, but if a patient is already diagnosed, we are ready and able help. The physicians at St. John Providence are trained to help patients choose the most effective options in treating cervical cancer. We provide comprehensive treatments in the form of medical therapies and surgical solutions, in addition to providing ongoing post-cancer care. Our range of services includes:
As with all cancers, early detection is key. If a pap test comes back abnormal, the following tests may be performed to determine and identify cancer cells:
- Colposcopy: A colposcope, which is an instrument with a binocular-type lens, will be inserted through the vagina to have a better look at the cervix.
- Biopsy: The doctor will retrieve and test a sample of tissue to determine whether or not it cancerous.
- Cystoscopy/Poctoscopy: In later stages of detection, cystoscopy is performed by inserting a thin tube with a lens into the bladder through the urethra. Poctoscopy is the same procedure inserted through the rectum.
- Imaging Tests: Various imaging tests may be conducted to identify cancerous cells including CT scan, MRI, and PET scan
To determine how far the cancer has spread, your cancer care team uses a process of analysis known as staging. The stage of your cancer impacts your treatment and the prognosis for recovery. A number of different staging systems can be used to classify tumors.
The TNM staging system assesses tumors in three ways: size of the primary tumor (T), whether it has spread to lymph nodes (N), and whether it has spread (metastasized) to other organs (M). Once the T, N, and M are determined, a number of I, II, III, or IV is assigned, with stage I being early stage and IV being advanced.
In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV, denotes a more serious case. Your doctor will review your test results and tell you the stage of your cancer.
Treatment options for cervical cancer depend on the stage and progression of the cancer. St. John Providence physicians are trained to help determine the most effective treatment option that best suits you as our patient. We treat cervical cancer with two primary options – surgical treatments and medical therapy treatments.
Medical Therapy Treatment:
As part of our Center for Excellence in Cancer Care, St. John Providence utilizes cutting edge technology and the most innovative surgical procedures to treat cancer. In addition to the traditional surgical procedures noted above, our esteemed physicians also perform the following procedures:
Surgery using the daVinci Robot
Robert Morris, M.D., and Leigh Ann Solomon, M.D. are trained and experienced in using the daVinci® robot to make gynecologic surgery easier and more effective for women. Making tiny, 1-2 centimeter incisions and using specialized techniques along with the daVinci robot, they can perform precise surgeries with less pain, fewer complications and minimal scarring. Patients typically have shorter hospital stays and return to normal activities quicker than with traditional approaches. DaVinci surgeries include:
- Simple and radical hysterectomies
- Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
- Lymph node dissections (for cancer staging)
Minimally Invasive Procedures
- Hysteroscopy (used to diagnose and treat infertility and heavy bleeding, or to remove fibroids or polyps)
- Laparascopy (used to diagnose and treat fibroids, tumors, and conditions such as endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy or pelvic inflammatory disease)
Specialized Surgical Solutions
- Fertility sparing procedures for early stage cervical cancer
- Pelvic reconstruction for advanced gynecologic cancer
The St. John Providence oncology team is here to support you on your road to recovery. Our goal is to help you attain a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, our treatment goes beyond surgeries and medical therapies. Your follow-up care can also include other services, including:
- The Healing Arts Center
- Support Groups
Treating cancer alone is not the only item on our agenda. At St. John Providence, our patients’ long-term health is our priority as well. Following treatment, our dedicated team will provide ongoing gynecological care to endure your health and well-being. These services may include annual exams and screenings and family planning.
We Have More to Learn
Although we offer the most advanced care for women in an award-winning hospital, our job of curing cancer is not yet done. At St. John Providence, we are proactively researching and experimenting new ways to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer. Click Here to learn more about Cervical Cancer Clinical Trials currently underway at St. John Providence.
For more general information about our research efforts, Click Here to read about the clinical trials and research initiatives at our hospitals.