Cervical cancer is a specific type of cancer which affects the cells of the cervix. (The cervix is the passage which connects the uterus with the vagina.) This type of cancer can affect the deep tissues of the cervix and if not treated, may spread to other parts of the body (metastasize), often affecting the lungs, liver, bladder, vagina, and rectum. Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), which is now preventable with a vaccine. It is important to stress that not all HPV infections cause cancer; HPV has different strains, most of which are harmless.
Cancer of the cervix is fortunately a relatively slow growing cancer, so through prevention campaigns and the NHS smear testing programme, early diagnosis means there is usually time to access treatment and eradicate the tumour. The success of this programme means that deaths attributable to cervical cancer are decreasing year on year.
There’s more than one kind of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer can be categorised depending which part of the cervix is involved.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer forms in the lining of your cervix. It’s the most common type of cancer, accounting for up to 90% of cases.
- Adenocarcinoma. This type forms in the cells that produce mucus to lubricate your cervix.
- Mixed carcinoma. This has features of the two other types of cancer
As with all types of cancer, certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing cervical cancer. These are:
- Starting to have sexual intercourse before the age of 16 (or within a year of starting your periods)
- Having multiple sexual partners without using any protection
- Taking birth control pills, especially if you take them for longer than 5 years
- Having a weakened immune system through other causes
- Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Smoking cigarettes
The most important thing when it comes to cancer is prevention: Attending your routine smear test when invited will ensure that any changes in your cervix which may indicate cancer can be detected early and treated quickly.
Cervical cancer and the menopause
So, is there a link between cervical cancer and the menopause? Well, some types of cervical cancer treatment can lead to premature menopause (this is also known as surgical menopause). The most effective treatments for invasive cervical cancer are surgery and radiation therapy. Others include chemotherapy and biological therapy.
The type of treatment needed to eradicate the cancer depends on how far the cancer has spread. If the cancer has reached the underlying tissue of the cervix, it may also have invaded the pelvis, potentially affecting the uterus and ovaries. In this case, surgery may involve the removal of the ovaries and / or the uterus – known as a hysterectomy. Hysterectomy will bring on immediate surgical menopause as these organs are responsible for the majority of oestrogen production.
Even if a hysterectomy is not necessary, in some cases radiation therapy can lead to menopause. This can either be classed as transitory, if your periods come back after you stop the treatment, or definitive, if you cease having periods and undergo menopause.
Treating early menopause brought on by surgery.
In the first instance, you need to talk to your doctor and decide what options there are to ease your menopausal symptoms. HRT treatment might be considered as one option. Going into premature menopause means not only will you experience all of the symptoms associated with menopause, you may also be susceptible to other problems related to the lack of oestrogen such as osteoporosis. For this reason, it is important to talk to a qualified practitioner.
Menopause is already a difficult time for women, but even more so if it comes early, as a result of surgery. As we said earlier, HRT can be a solution, but also there are plenty of natural remedies to ease menopausal symptoms. Supplements (like Menoblend) can be useful to help prevent the development of osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease. In addition, even symptoms like vaginal dryness and vaginal atrophy can be overcome with natural treatments or eased with intimate health products.
It’s tough facing menopause unexpectedly early, especially when you’ve just overcome the huge challenge of cancer – but there are things you can do to help with the transition. Remember, knowledge is power and with the right approach nothing is impossible!