This article is contributed by Dr. Nelson Siu
1. What is cervical cancer and how common is it?
Cervical cancer is a cancer developed at the neck of uterus. It is the most common female genital tract cancer worldwide, but its incidence has greatly diminished in western countries, due to population wide screening programs.
2. How do cervical cancers develop?
Virtually all cervical cancers are caused by a virus named ‘Human Papillomavirus’ (HPV). After the HPV has infected the cervix, it could cause changes in the cells. In a small percentage of women, such changes will progress to cancer if left untreated.
3. Can we prevent cervical cancer?
Population wide screening by Pap smear in western world has greatly decreased the incidence of cervical cancer in the last century. With the invention of HPV vaccine, scientists believe that cervical cancer may be eliminated or become a very rare disease by the end of this century if everyone is vaccinated.
4. How does cervical cancer commonly present?
Nowadays, with the Pap smear screening programme, abnormal cellular changes are usually picked up before development into malignant state. Also, most cases of cervical cancers are detected in early stage following abnormal smears. However, in countries where Pap smear screening is not widely available, patients usually present with abnormal vaginal bleeding.
5. Is surgery the only way to treat cervical cancer? What other options are available?
Radical surgery to remove the uterus and pelvic lymph nodes is the recommended treatment for early-stage disease. Patients who are unfit for surgery or at advanced stage will need concurrent radio-chemotherapy.
6. What is the prognosis of cervical cancer?
Early-stage disease can have excellent cure rate. The 5-years’ survival rate for stage I disease is more than 80%. Survival rate decreases with advancing stages. Thus, early diagnosis is the paramount key point for complete cure.