About the condition
Cervical cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the cervix, which is the entrance to the womb from the vagina, become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the cervix and move to other parts of the body.
Cervical cancer is uncommon in the UK, with around 3,000 cases diagnosed every year. Unlike other cancers, the main cause of cervical cancer has been identified.
Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that’s often spread during sex. HPV comes in over 100 different types, but only a few can disrupt the normal functioning of the cells and potentially trigger the onset of cancer. 70% of all cases of cervical cancers are known to be caused by HPV 16 or HPV 18*. Neither of these viruses cause noticeable symptoms, meaning it can be hard to spot the infection without tests. Using condoms during sex offers some protection against HPV, but it cannot always prevent infection.
Since 2008, a HPV vaccine has been routinely offered to girls between the ages of 12 and 13.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer have also been identified.
Cervical cancer often has no symptoms in its early stages, but when symptoms do occur the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding. Unusual bleeding occurs at any of the following times:
- After sexual intercourse
- At any time other than your expected monthly period
- After the menopause
Vaginal bleeding is very common and can have a range of causes, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have cervical cancer. However, unusual vaginal bleeding is a symptom that needs to be investigated by your GP.
Other symptoms of cervical cancer may include:
- pain and discomfort during sex
- an unpleasant smelling vaginal discharge
Some people find it embarrassing to talk about these sorts of symptoms, but if any of the above apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once. Alternatively you can book an appointment with one of our specialists by completing this form online or by calling 020 8247 3351.
If you’re referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your individual symptoms. Following an abnormal smear test, a number of diagnostic procedures will be run to ensure a diagnosis of cervical cancer. These include:
- A Colposcopy, which is when a colposcope (a small microscope with a light on the end) is used to examine your cervix.
- A Cone biopsy, which involves the removal of a small, cone-shaped section of your cervix for examination.
If the results of the biopsy suggest you have cervical cancer and there’s a risk that the cancer may have spread, you’ll probably need to have some further tests to assess how widespread the cancer is.
After all of the tests have been completed and your test results are known, it should be possible to tell you what stage cancer you have. Staging is a measurement of how far the cancer has spread. The higher the stage, the further the cancer has spread. The staging for cervical cancer is as follows:
- stage 0 (pre-cancer) – there are no cancerous cells in the cervix, but there are biological changes that could trigger the onset of cancer in the future
- stage 1 – the cancer is still contained inside the cervix
- stage 2 – the cancer has spread outside the cervix into the surrounding tissue, but has not reached the pelvic wall or the lower part of the vagina
- stage 3 – the cancer has spread into the lower section of the vagina and/or into the pelvic wall
- stage 4 – the cancer has spread into the bowel, bladder or other organs, such as the lungs
At CCL, patients with cervical cancer are treated by an experienced multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Depending on the stage of the cancer, there is a wide range of treatment options available.
If the screening results indicate that the patient has cervical cancer, surgery is often one of the first treatments.
Following surgery, most patients undergo additional treatments to lower the chances of further spread and reoccurrence of cervical cancer. These include:
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy, where chemical agents destroy the cancer cells preventing them from spreading to different areas.
At CCL we provide support that caters to both the physical and emotional needs of the patient, before, during and after treatment.
We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible. Following treatment for cervical cancer, many women have concerns about their sexual health and fertility, and may be experiencing physiological and emotional changes that can be difficult to deal with. CCL provides fertility specialists and psychosexual therapists to help women adapt and adjust to these changes.
Our support services include counselling, group sessions and much more. You can find the full range of our support services here. We’ll be with you every step of the way.
If you have any questions about cervical cancer or would like to book an appointment with one of our cervical cancer specialists, complete this form online or call 020 8247 3351.
Cervical Cancer Consultants