The bad news about cervical cancer is that it is one of the most common cancers affecting the female reproductive organs. But cheer up! It's a slow-growing cancer and 100 percent curable if detected early.
Cervical cancer usually affects women between 30 and 55 years old. The National Cancer Institute said there are over 11,000 cases discovered every year.
Who gets cervical cancer? Naturally, any woman with a cervix is prone to the disease, but there are certain risk factors to consider. Sexual promiscuity is one of them.
Women who begin having sex before age 18 are more likely to get the disease. The cervix simply can't stand numerous penile thrusts from different men who may carry a variety of infections. These include the papilloma virus (which is responsible for warts), genital herpes, the chlamydia organism, and other cancer-causing agents.
It you have had many pregnancies which started at a tender age, that puts you at risk for cervical cancer as well. On a positive side, women who use barrier methods of contraception, namely, the cervical cap, diaphragm, or let their partners wear a condom, which in all cases protect the cervix, have a lower cancer rate.For some reason, smoking affects the cervix and the nicotine buildup in that organ can trigger the disease. Passive smokers face the same risk. So stop smoking now and avoid those who do. A diet rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, and folacin is believed to be protective against cervical cancer. So it's probably wise to eat your veggies.
Circumcision was once thought to protect women from cervical cancer but we now know that this is not true. This painful procedure has no medical benefit and should be discouraged except in special cases.
There are usually no symptoms in the early stage of the disease. Warning signals include bleeding after intercourse, bleeding between periods or after menopause. In some, there is a watery, bloody discharge from the vagina. A dull backache may be felt later.
With early detection, cervical cancer is highly curable provided it has not spread beyond the uterus. A yearly pelvic exam and a routine Pap test can save you a lot of trouble.
Since the 1940s, the Pap smear has reduced cervical cancer death rates by 70 percent. Today, only about three percent of women die from the disease thanks to this valuable test.
"A Pap smear is the best screening procedure for cervical cancer. It can detect early lesions as well as pre-malignant lesions of the cervix. Aside from that, a Pap smear can also detect infection," according to Dr. Rey de los Reyes, an obstetrician and gynecologist at the United Doctors Medical Center in the Philippines.
The Pap smear is named after Dr. G.N. Papanicolaou who developed it. In this test, the doctor gathers cell samples from the surface of the cervix by means of scraping it with a wooden spatula, brush, or cotton swab. The cell samples are sent to a laboratory for analysis.
"A negative result means that your cervix is normal; positive result indicates some abnormal cells. A positive result does not prove that you have cancer or even dysplasia, a precancerous condition, but it usually does mean you should have further evaluation, such as colposcopic examination and biopsy,'' said Dr. David E. Larson, editor-in-chief of the "Mayo Clinic Family Health Book."
A colposcope is an instrument with a magnifying lens which helps the physician examine the cervix. While doing so, he removes a bit of the cervix (biopsy) for analysis.
"Once you have a suspicious lesion on the cervix that should be biopsied. Since some lesions of the cervix and even an infection can look like cervical cancer, a biopsy can accurately detect the disease," De los Reyes said. (Next: When should you have a Pap test?)
According to statistics, ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer among women and the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 20,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed this year, and approximately 15,000 women will die from ovarian cancer this year.
Ovarian cancer is often called the silent killer because its symptoms can be subtle, leading to a delayed diagnosis and poorer outcome. However, if ovarian cancer is detected early, approximately nine out of ten women will live for at least five years with the disease.
Ovarian cancer starts in the cells of the ovary or ovaries. The ovaries are two small, oval-shaped organs that lie deep in the pelvis on either side of the uterus (womb), close to the end of the Fallopian tubes. The ovaries are part of the female reproductive system.
Each month, in women of childbearing age, one of the ovaries releases an egg (ovum). This is called ovulation. The egg travels down the Fallopian tube to the uterus, where it may be fertilized by a sperm and develop into a fetus. If the egg is not fertilized, it is shed as part of your monthly period.
The ovaries also produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Estrogen and progesterone help control reproduction and sexual development. As a woman ages and reaches menopause, the ovaries make less of these hormones and periods gradually stop.
If left undetected and untreated, ovarian cancer can spread from the ovaries to other organs in the pelvis, such as the Fallopian tubes, uterus, rectum, colon or bladder.
In the most advanced form, ovarian cancer can spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs.
In a previous article, we took a look at the first two stages of ovarian cancer. We can now turn our attention to the last two.
In stage III, the cancer is becoming more advanced as in addition to being in one or both ovaries, the cancer has spread past the pelvis to the abdominal lining and may have also spread to the nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is also divided into IIIA, B, and C.
In stage IIIA, cancer cells are present in small amounts in parts of the abdomen as well as one or both ovaries.
In stage IIIB, cancer cells are also present in amounts less than two centimeters (three-fourths of an inch) in parts of the abdomen.
In the final subsection of stage III, IIIC, ovarian cancer has either spread to the nearby lymph nodes or cancer cells are present in amounts greater than two centimeters (three-fourths of an inch) in parts of the abdomen.
The last and most advanced stage of ovarian cancer that I would like to discuss is stage IV. In this stage, the cancerous cells are present in one or both ovaries and have spread to other organs in the body, such as the liver or lungs.
These are the main stages of ovarian cancer. It should be noted that there can be one final stage and that is where the cancer is recurrent. This is when the cancer comes back in one of the organs of the body after it has already been treated.
Laura Guthrie is a former cancer patient who successfully recovered. She now shares her best of the best information to give back.