Definition & Overview
Cervical tumours are abnormal masses or growths in the cervix, the cylinder-shaped neck of tissue that forms the lower part of the uterus. These tumours are the primary symptom of cervical cancer, the most common type of cancer that affects women. Cervical tumours can grow slowly without causing immediate symptoms. Thus, regular cervical cancer screening is highly advised to assess one’s risk of developing the condition. It is also instrumental in obtaining an early diagnosis, which can significantly improve prognosis. Treatment options for patients diagnosed with malignant cervical tumours include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgical intervention.
Causes of the Condition
The cells that line the cervical wall normally undergo changes, but for some reasons, specific changes lead to the formation of cervical tumours. An example is the change brought about by HPV or human papillomavirus, a very common virus passed through sexual contact. There are now more than a hundred types of HPV and some, like HPV 16 and 18, may cause abnormal cell changes that may cause cervical cancer.
These cells can be detected through cervical cancer screening even if they are still in the pre-malignant stage. The test is performed in a similar way to a pap smear. A small sample of the cells from the cervical lining is obtained and examined under a microscope to detect abnormal changes. While an abnormal result is not a definite sign of cancer, it can be an indication of precancerous cells. Women aged 25 to 49 are advised to undergo screening every three years, while women aged 50 to 64 should be screened once every five years.
There are several effective preventative measures to prevent the development of HPV infections including practising safe sex and getting vaccinations. Young girls, as early as 12 years old, are eligible to receive the vaccine. There are currently two vaccines available, namely Gardasil and Cervarix.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include:
- Having sex at an early age
- Multiple sexual partners
- High-risk sexual activities
- Consumption of diethylstilbestrol drug during pregnancy (usually to prevent a potential miscarriage)
- Compromised immune system
Cervical tumours are typically asymptomatic during early stages. If not treated on time, and the condition progresses, patients can develop the following symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Vaginal bleeding between periods
- Post-menopausal bleeding
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain
Advanced stages of cervical cancer may also cause:
- Back pain
- Bone pain
- Increased propensity to suffer from fractures
- Leg pain
- Urine leakage
- Fecal leakage
- Loss of appetite
- Swelling in one leg
- Unexplained weight loss
Patients who experience the above symptoms should immediately seek medical attention, as prompt diagnosis can help raise their chances of recovery. To diagnose the condition, patients typically undergo x-rays and CT, MRI, and PET scans to detect the tumour and determine its stage.
Cervical cancer, which most commonly develops from the squamous cells in the cervix rather than the columnar cells, usually begins as a precancerous condition known as dysplasia, which is 100% treatable.
Who to See and Types of Treatments Available
Patients suspected of having cervical tumours should see a gynaecologic oncologist, a medical professional who specialises in diagnosing and treating cancers that grow on the female reproductive organs. These specialists have completed obstetrics and gynaecology residency training as well as subspecialty training in gynaecologic oncology. Gynecologic oncologists serve as the leader of a larger cancer care team responsible for caring for a woman with cervical cancer.
Cervical tumours are treated differently from other cancerous tumours. Patients’ treatment options include:
However, just like other cancer treatment methods, these can also cause significant side effects, some of which are long-term or even permanent in nature. These include:
- Early menopause
During treatment, patients may also experience:
- Minor vaginal bleeding
- Frequent urination
- Severe bleeding
- Kidney failure
The success of the treatment and the patient’s chances for a complete recovery largely depend on the severity of the condition when treatment is started. Patients suffering from stage 1 cervical cancer have an 80 to 99% chance of recovery, whereas stage 2 patients have a 60 to 90% chance. This dwindles down to just 30 to 50% for those suffering from stage 3 and to only 20% for those suffering from stage 4, which is the terminal stage of the disease.
Braun S, Reimer D, Strobl I, Wieland U, Wiesbauer P, et al. “Fatal invasive cervical cancer secondary to untreated cervical dysplasia: a case report.” Journal of Medical Case Reports 2011;5(316). https://jmedicalcasereports.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1752-1947-5-316
Colombo N, Carinelli S, Colombo A, Marini C, Rollo D, Sessa C. “Cervical cancer: ESMO Clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment, and followup.” Annals of Oncology. 23(7): vii27-vii32. http://annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/suppl_7/vii27.full