Cervical cancer is a malignant tumor that develops in the tissues of the lower part of the uterus, located at the bottom of the vagina.
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As with other cancers, the origin of this pathology is the Human Papillomavirus (English acronym: HPV), and mainly type 16 and 18 papillomaviruses which are responsible for 70% of tumors.
Most infections due to a papillomavirus are benign and are neutralized spontaneously by the body but in some women the presence of precancerous lesions on the mucous membrane of the cervix can give rise to a tumor. Unlike other cancers, if it is sidetracked and treated at an early stage, cervical cancer can be avoided.
The infection occurs sexually, generally during the first intercourse, but it is not the sperm or blood that transmits the virus. Some factors increase the risk of contamination:
- early sexual intercourse
- numerous sexual partners
- numerous pregnancies
- immune deficiency
- the smoke
To prevent the presence of a papillomavirus from degenerating into a tumor, there are two types of prevention.
There are recently two preventive vaccines on the market, effective against the most aggressive papillomaviruses, which should avoid 70% of tumors:
- the GSK laboratory has developed Cervarix, a vaccine against HPV types 16 and 18.
- the Merck laboratory has devised an effective vaccine against HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18, called Gardasil. HPV types 6 and 11 are at the origin of condylomas, also called cockscomb warts, which are sexually transmitted.
These two vaccines can be administered to women between 15 and 23 who have not yet had sexual intercourse or, at most, in the year following the first intercourse. Vaccines do not protect against all types of papillomaviruses so it is necessary to regularly carry out a pap-test, in order to prevent the 30% of tumors that are due to other papillomaviruses.
The pap smear
The pap smear is used to detect as soon as possible the presence in the cervix of abnormal cells that can develop a tumor. In order for it to be effective, it is recommended to carry out a pap smear every 3 years, after two initial tests at an interval of one year from each other. If the pap smear shows the presence of abnormal cells, there is no need to worry because in most cases these are benign lesions. To learn more about the results of the pap smear, you can test for HPV or perform a colposcopy and a biopsy.
Prevention of cervical cancer
The treatments administered depend on the stage of the tumor at the time of diagnosis.
When the tumor is at the precancerous stage, various methods can be used: cryotherapy (based on cold) or laser treatment are not very aggressive methods, while with conization a fragment of the cervix is removed. For small tumors, the uterus is ablated while for more developed ones, the fallopian tubes, ovaries and lymph glands must also be removed. Radiotherapy can also be practiced.
If the cancer is very advanced and begins to spread to other parts of the body, surgery becomes ineffective and chemotherapy, combined with radiotherapy, must be started.
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