Cervical cancer is the fourteenth most common cancer in women in the UK.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the lining of the cervix and grow to form a tumour. Your cervix is the area connecting your vagina to your womb.
If cervical cancer is not caught early, cancer cells can gradually grow into the surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body. However, it can be treated successfully, especially if diagnosed early.
Cervical cancer can affect women of any age but is more commonly seen in younger women under the age of 45 years.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is the infection from human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is common and in fact, many sexually active people will be exposed to HPV in their lifetime.
Multiple strains of HPV exist, most of which are harmless. However two strains of HPV, HPV 16 and HPV 18, can cause the development of cervical cancer if a woman comes into contact with them, and her immune system doesn’t clear the infection within a few years.
Other factors that can increase your risk of cervical cancer include:
- Living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – particularly if you are not taking effective treatment for this
- Smoking tobacco
- Taking the contraceptive pill–long-term use of the contraceptive pill (5 years+) has been shown to increase your risk
- Having a history of cervical cancer in your family.
During this procedure, a specialist nurse will gently slide a plastic instrument (called a speculum) into your vagina to see the cervix clearly. A soft brush is then used to take some samples from your cervix which are sent to the laboratory.
This test picks up any cervical abnormalities, such as the types of HPV which can cause changes to the cells in your cervix.
This isn’t a test for cancer, but a tool for picking up any abnormal cell changes in the cervix, before they have the opportunity to develop into cancer.
This is a test to look at the cervix in greater detail. You will generally be referred for a colposcopy if you’re experiencing symptoms or have received an abnormal result as part of your cervical screening.
During the procedure, your consultant uses a colposcope – a magnifying glass – to have a closer look at your cervix. It allows your consultant to see cell changes that may be too small to see with the naked eye.
If needed, they can take biopsies of any abnormal areas on the cervix.
You may also be referred to have additional tests, depending on the outcome of your colposcopy and biopsy. These may include blood tests, a pelvic examination, a CT scan or an MRI scan.
Cromwell Hospital offers this treatment for patients who have been diagnosed with an abnormal cervical smear. The colposcopy is carried out to see if there are any abnormal cells and a small tissue biopsy from an abnormal area is taken.
If a tissue biopsy confirms there are abnormal cells, then a large loop excision of the transformation zone (LLETZ) is offered to remove the abnormal cells from the cervix. Your consultant will explain all findings and treatment options.
The most common surgeries recommended are:
- Radical trachelectomy – This involves removing most of the cervix, and the upper part of the vagina. The womb is left intact.
- Hysterectomy – This involves removing the womb and the cervix. In some cases, your consultant may recommend the removal of the top of the vagina, surrounding tissue, lymph nodes, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
- Pelvic exenteration – This involves removing the cervix, vagina, womb, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder and rectum. This procedure is only recommended in rare instances – for example where the cervical cancer is recurring.