Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatment

Cervical Cancer: Risk Factors, Warning Signs, and Treatment

Cervical Cancer cause and symptoms Blog banner

Know Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer is the second most life threatening disease in Indian women. Awareness about cervical cancer risk factors (warning signs), symptoms, causes and treatment becomes vital in context of this fact. 

Cervical Cancer occurs in the cervix, an organ in the female reproductive system located in the birth canal part of the uterus. The uncontrolled growth of cells due to a genetic abnormality in the cervix leads to cervical cancer. 

Cervical Cancer Occurrence in India

Cervical cancer is the second most fatal cancer in Indian women. Of the total deaths occurring worldwide due to cervical cancer, India itself accounts for 25% of the deaths. The situation is thus, an alarming one and the primary cause is very little awareness about cervical cancer among the Indian women.

Types of Cervical Cancer

There are two types of cervical cancer that can occur depending on the location of the cancer in the cervix. 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Thin and flat cells which are the squamous epithelial cells present at the bottom of the cervix, when grow out of control cause the squamous cell carcinoma. It occurs in the ectocervix or exocervix region. More than 80% of cervical cancer cases are related to the squamous cell carcinoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma infographic image

Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma occurs when the glandular cells in the upper region of the cervix or the endocervix region grow out of control. Although adenocarcinomas are not as common as squamous cell carcinoma they too are present in large numbers and a significant health challenge.

Cervical Cancer Causes: The How of it All?

The major cervical cancer risk factor or cause is the Human Papillomavirus or HPV in short. The virus is responsible for altering the DNA of the cells in the cervix region leading to the uncontrolled growth of cells resulting in cervical cancer. 

Typically, the HPV is removed from the body on its own but some notorious strains of the virus cause the HPV infection. The risk increases for women with impaired or low immunity giving opportunity to the HPV for infecting the body. 

HPV is the primary reason and the only source of HPV infection causing cervical cancer. But what are the causes of risk factors besides HPV for cervical cancer? They are:

  • Immune Deficiency: Corticosteroid medications, organ transplants, other cancer treatments or HIV infection can lead to weaker immune system providing the optimal condition for HPV infection and onset of cancer. 
  • Genital Herpes: Herpes is a sexually transmitted disease. Genital herpes increases the risk of cervical cancer. 
  • Smoking or tobacco consumption: Smoking or tobacco consumption is responsible for many different types of cancer or aggravating existing cancers. 
  • Oral Contraceptives: Women consuming oral contraceptives on a regular basis have a risk of cervical cancer.
  • Unsafe Sexual Practices: The risk of HPV infection occurs from unsafe sexual practices or having too many sexual partners. Therefore, unsafe sexual activities are one of the primary cervical cancer causes from lifestyle habits. 

Cervical Cancer Symptoms: Visible Warning Signs of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer symptoms take time to show up as the growth of cervical cancer is very slow. There are cases where the cancer signs have shown up between the age of 20 and 30 but the cancer is detected at the age of 50 or beyond. 

It is important to note that the warning signs of cervical cancer show at later stages. Following are the cervical cancer symptoms:

  • Thicker menstrual bleeding that also lasts longer. 
  • Pelvic pain and/or back pain without a known cause
  • Mild bleeding in-between the period cycles.
  • Bleeding after intercourse i.e. postcoital bleeding. 
  • Bleeding during douching i.e. spray or showering with water. 
  • Pain during sexual encounter
  • Bleeding during a pelvic examination
  • Bleeding during menopause
  • High vaginal discharge

In order to detect cervical cancer it is important to go for regular checkups. 

Cervical Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

Cervical cancer screening is done by two tests. They are:

  • Pap Smear Test: The pap smear test is done to check for cancerous cells in the cervix region. It is a common test performed for pre-cancerous stages as well and for regular cancer health checkups. 
  • HPV Test: HPV test is performed for checking the presence of human papillomavirus capable of creating changes at the genetic level. 

Following the results of screening the doctor goes for in-depth examination of the symptoms and begins the diagnosis with a thorough examination of the cervix. 

In order to examine the case, a well-trained gynecologic oncologist uses a colonoscope to check for any abnormal growth of cells in the cervix. Using the colonoscope and the doctor takes samples from the overgrowing cells for a lab study. The samples are collected using: 

  • Punch Biopsy
  • Endocervical Curettage
  • Electrical Wire Loop Test
  • Conization or Cone Biopsy

Once Diagnosed the cervical cancer treatment process can begin. 

Stages of Cervical Cancer

The different stages of cervical cancer indicate the extent to which the cancer has spread. Depending on the different stages of cervical cancer different treatments and treatment combinations are provided to the patient. 

Following are the classification of the stages of cervical cancer:

Stage I: This is the stage where the cancer cells have formed in the cervix. At this stage the tumor cells have just formed. In stage I the cancer cells start growing and the tumor size goes beyond 4 centimetres. Stage 1 cervical cancer symptoms include bleeding in between periods and pelvic discomfort. Patients with stage I cervical cancer have a very high survival rate going beyond 90% unless there is involvement of the pelvic lymph node for which the survival rate is lower. 

stage 1 Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer stage 2

Stage II: At stage II the abnormal cell growth has increased and the tumor has spread in the surrounding tissues. The cancer cell growth has spread to the uterus and the cervix. By the end of stage II the upper two-third region of the vagina has got infected. Stage 2 cervical cancer symptoms are abnormal uterine bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, spotting between periods, having heavier or longer periods, unusual vaginal discharge, bloody discharge, and pelvic pain. The survival rate for stage II cancer patients is also as high as more than 60% when treatments involve a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Stage III: In the third stage the cancer has now begun to spread to the lower part of the vagina. During stage III itself the cancer has metastasized to the pelvic wall and furthermore by the end of stage III, the abnormal cancer cell regrowth has spread to the lymph nodes and the aorta making its way to the stomach. Symptoms of stage 3 cervical cancer exhibit problems with urination, leg swelling, problems having a bowel movement, bloody urine, painful vaginal sex, weight loss, and back pain. A patient diagnosed with stage III cervical cancer the 5-year survival rate is approximately around 35%.

stage 3 Cervical Cancer
Cervical Cancer stage 4

Stage IV: In the last stage i.e. Stage IV of cervical cancer has spread to the distant organs of the body. Surrounding areas like urinary bladder and rectum have become infected and vital organs in the body like liver, lungs, bones and very distant and deeper lymph nodes. Stage 4 cervical cancer symptoms are lethargy, fatigue or weakness, dizziness, bone deficiency (pain or fractures), vaginal fistula, shortness of breath, and spitting up blood. Once the cancer has spread to distant organs the 5-year survival rate drops down to 16.8%.

Cervical Cancer Treatment

Cervical Cancer treatment employs many different kinds of treatment methods depending on the severity determined by the stage of cervical cancer. Given below are some of the routine and advanced cervical cancer treatment methods:

Cervical Cancer Surgery: Surgeries carried out for early stage cancers are:
Cone Biopsy: Patients with small cervical cancer tumors normally undergo cone biopsy. The surgery is so called as the cone-shaped cervical tissue is completely removed.

Trachelectomy: This surgery involves the removal of the entire cervix and the surrounding tissues keeping the uterus intact.

Hysterectomy: It is a radical surgery for early stage cervical cancer involving the removal of cervix and uterus with some following parts of vagina and some lymph nodes. One main advantage is that there is no risk of recurrence. But one thing to take into consideration is that removal of the uterus means the patient won’t be able to get pregnant. 

  • Radiation Therapy: High-powered energy beams or protons to kill the cancer cells. This therapy is also used to avoid the risk of recurrence after surgery.
    External Radiation Therapy: The method requires directing a radiation beam to the cervical cancer affected areas of the body.
    Brachytherapy: It is an internal radiation therapy process, in which a device loaded with a radioactive material is placed inside the vagina for a few minutes. The risk factor about brachytherapy is that it can cause menopause in women. 
  • Chemotherapy: In chemotherapy based cervical cancer treatment,  chemicals are injected or pills are given to the patient. Occasionally in order to boost the effects of cancer treatment therapies chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used in combination. 
  • Targeted therapy: A cervical cancer treatment therapy targeting the weaker cancer cells in the cervix region is known as targeted therapy. This method is often clubbed with cervical cancer treatment especially in the later stages. 
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy takes help of making the cancer cells detectable to the immune system thus helping the body in fighting the body fight cancer itself. 

It is important to note that cervical cancer survival and treatment success rates are more high during the early stages of cancer. With cancer progressing to the third and fourth stage causes a huge drop in the survival chances and success of the cancer treatment.

Cervical Cancer Conclusion

Having known the cervical cancer causes, symptoms/warning signs, diagnosis, and treatments, be sure to get regular health check-ups for cancer so that a deadly and terrible disease can be avoided from becoming a part of your life. For more information on cervical cancer and treatment options or for getting a second opinion about cancer treatment follow and visit Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences and Research Center. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the cervical cancer survival rate?

Ans: The cervical cancer survival rate depends on the different stages of cervical cancer. Cervical Cancer stage 1 is more than 92% for a five year survival. For stage 2 the five year survival rate is more than 60% while for stage 4 the same is approximately 35%. At last the five year survival rate for cervical cancer stage 4 drops down to approximately 16%. 

  1. How do you know if you have cervical cancer?

Ans: In order to know if you have cervical cancer a regular screening involving pap smear tests during yearly routine health checkups is important. The symptoms of cervical cancer like unusual bleeding, back pain and pelvic discomfort, etc. are symptoms of other common ailments as well. Therefore, regular checkups are essential to know if you have cervical cancer. 

  1. Is stage 4 cervical cancer curable?

Ans: The stage 4 cervical cancer survival rate and treatment success rate is very low. In stage 4 cervical cancer the cancer cells have spread to the distant organs of the body thereby making treatment of the cancer difficult. Therefore, stage 4 cervical cancer is rarely curable. 


The information included here is only for knowledge-sharing purposes, and the blog is not intended to be a substitute for diagnosis, medical advice, or treatment by a healthcare professional. Every individual needs advice based on diagnosis and evidence, hence the reader should consult their doctor to determine the disease and any treatment must be taken under appropriate medical guidance.

Leave a Reply