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Reagan Street, a gynecological oncologist on the medical staff of Baylor All Saints Medical Center at Fort Worth, answers frequently asked question about cervical cancer.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is a disease of the uterine cervix or the opening into the uterus. The disease starts as abnormal cells, termed cervical dysplasia, which then progresses into cancer if untreated.
What causes cervical cancer?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is a sexually transmitted virus that is present in almost every sexually active person at some time in their lives. HPV causes the dysplasia or precancerous lesions that progress to cancer if untreated. Smoking exacerbates the HPV virus and is a co-factor in progression of the disease from dysplasia to cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Most cervical cancer is found by a gynecologic exam and pap smear evaluation. More progressive or advanced stage cervical cancer presents with abnormal bleeding or discharge. The bleeding is often postcoital and the discharge is foul smelling. Very advanced stage cancer can present with significant pelvic pain, leg pain or back pain. These symptoms indicate pelvic spread of disease lateral to the cervix.
How is cervical cancer diagnosed?
Cervical cancer is diagnosed with a biopsy of the cervix after a patient presents with abnormal pap smear or the symptoms above.
How do you treat cervical cancer?
Early stage cervical cancer can be treated with hysterectomy. Patients often need a more extensive hysterectomy, which is termed a radical hysterectomy. More advanced stage disease is treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. It is important after treatment to continue to monitor with examinations frequently because of the risk of recurrence especially in advanced disease.
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