Cervical Cancer in Australia

Cervical cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the lining of the cervix with the most common type being squamous cell carcinoma which accounts for about 80% of cases. It is estimated that 930 new cases of cervical cancer cases will be diagnosed in Australia in 2018 with 258 of these cases leading to death.

What are the risk factors of cervical cancer?

There are number of risk factors associated with developing cervical cancer. Some of these risk factors include:

HPV infection

Nearly all cervical cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus infection (HPV). HPV is a common virus that is transmitted through genital skin to skin contact during sexual activity and is often not detected as there are usually no symptoms. The body’s own immune system usually clears HPV within one to two years however sometimes it does not which then can cause the cells in the cervix to change which in rare cases can develop into cancer. It usually takes 10 to 15 years for HPV to develop into cancer.

Smoking

The chemicals in a cigarette can cause the cells in the cervix to change and develop cancer.

Lack of regular screening

Cervical cancer is more common in women who have not had regular screenings. In Australia, it is recommend that any women who have had sex should be screened every 5 years from the age of 25 to 74. This screening can detect HPV cells that may eventually develop into cancerous cells so regular screening is important even if you have been vaccinated against HPV.

Age

Cervical cancer is more commonly diagnosed in women over 35 years old and is less common in women younger than 25. In Australia around 70% of cases are diagnosed in women less than 60 years old.

Taking contraceptive pills for too long

Using contraceptive pills for more than five years may increase the risk of cervical cancer however the risk quickly decreases when they are no longer taken.

Screening abnormalities or previous cancer

Women who have had HPV detected in screens are at a greater risk of developing cervical cancer later therefore it is recommended that the test be repeated sooner than the 5 years recommended for women who have had normal results. If an abnormality is detected an ongoing management plan should be discussed with your doctor.

Women who have previously been diagnosed with cervical cancer are also at risk of developing it again and should also discuss an ongoing management plan.

What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Early cell changes in the cervix often have no symptoms however if these cell changes do develop into cancer then the symptoms may include:

  • vaginal bleeding between periods
  • menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than usual
  • bleeding after intercourse
  • pain during intercourse
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • excessive tiredness
  • leg pain or swelling
  • low back pain.

As these symptoms can be related to a number of other conditions it is important that they be discussed with your doctor to help determine the cause early.

How is cervical cancer treated?

When cervical cancer is detected it will be staged to help your medical team determine your treatment plan. These stages range from 0 to IV, 0 meaning that abnormal cells have been detected through to IV which means that the cancer has spread to nearby organs.

Once the cancer has been staged treatment can then be decided. Early, non-bulky cervical cancer can be treated with surgery to remove and sometimes followed up with chemotherapy. In some cases a cone biopsy may be sufficient if the tumour is small enough and in other cases a hysterectomy may be required. Locally advanced cases a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy is used. In metastatic cases, the treatment is chemotherapy or palliative care only.

What can you do to reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer?

There are a number of lifestyle factors that can help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer such as not smoking, reducing alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, eating well and being sun safe. It is also important that the recommended cervical screening tests are undertaken.

Early detection of cervical cancer is extremely important in treating cervical cancer so if you are 25 years or older contact us today at Breed Street Clinic to organise your screening.