Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth that forms in the cervix (the lower part of the womb or uterus). It is the 10th most commonly occurring cancer with the 8th highest cancer mortality rate among women in Singapore.
The most common cause of cervical cancer is infection of the human papilloma virus (HPV), although not all women who are infected with HPV will get cervical cancer. This infection can be spread through sexual activity. Other risk factors are:
- Having a male sexual partner with sexually transmitted infection or a history of sexual partner(s) with sexually transmitted infections or previous cancer of the cervix
- Having previous sexually transmitted infection
- First sexual activity before the age of 20
- A history of multiple sexual partners
- The use of oral contraceptives
Early cervical cancer may have no symptoms. You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina (after sexual intercourse or between menstrual periods)
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Lower back pain or pelvic pain
- Late stages symptoms include problems urinating, defecating, or leg swelling
You should have regular screening of your cervix if you are sexually active – every 3 years until the age of 30, then every 5 years after if tests are normal.
Cervical cancer is preventable and curable when detected and treated early through regular screening. The Pap smear test is often the screening tool used to detect cervical cancer.
The Pap smear test is a method of cervical screening used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the cervix. It can be performed by a gynaecologist, and usually takes only a few minutes. During a Pap smear, the doctor will use an instrument known as a speculum to hold the walls of the vagina open so that the doctor can see the cervix clearly. A soft brush or spatula is then used to collect sample cells of your cervix. These cells will then be sent to a laboratory where the cells are tested for cancerous or pre-cancerous properties.
Women should avoid having sexual intercourse for 24 hours before the test, and they should not have the test performed when they are menstruating.
Treatment depends on the stage of cervical cancer:
- Pre-cancer stage of the cervix is treated by removing the abnormal cells from the lining of the cervix through local ablative or excision procedures — this usually help prevents cervical cancer from occurring
- Early cervical cancer is treated by removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) or radiation therapy (high-energy x-rays), often with chemotherapy
- Late (advanced) cervical cancer is treated by radiation therapy, often with concurrent chemotherapy
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