Cervical cancer is a malignant cancer of cervix uteri and is termed as one of the most life- threatening cancers. There are five stages of cervical cancer, stage 0 to stage IV. The stages are classified according to the invasion of cancerous cells in the human body.
Cervical cancer originates in the cervix uteri or cervical region and spreads throughout the body in later stages. The major cause is the infection of a strain of human papillomavirus. The virus triggers the cells of the cervix to undergo alteration, which leads to cervical intraepithelial neoplasia, which further leads to cancer. Other co-factors include HIV infection, smoking, multiple pregnancies and unsafe sex with multiple partners.
Cervical cancer can be diagnosed by conducting several tests like X-Ray, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan, and Lymphangiogram. Pap smear test is known to be the most reliable for the detection of cervical cancer, as it can identify potentially precancerous changes. Detection of cancer in the early stages can improve survival chances to a great extent.
The worst part about cervical cancer is that it fails to show peculiar symptoms, making it impossible to detect in the early stages. Late stages are characterized by vaginal bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse and vaginal discharge. As several other disorders show similar symptoms, these signs cannot be attributed to the development of cervical cancer alone. Hence, proper diagnosis is necessary in the initial stages itself.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
It is divided into five stages depending upon their severity and invasion of cancerous cells. These stages are:
Stage 0 cancer is also called ‘cancer in situ.’ The growth of cancerous cells is found on the surface of only the cervix and not anywhere else. Cervical cancer can be treated easily if detected in this stage. This stage also shows a very high survival rate.
In this stage, the cancer cells no more confine themselves to the surface of the cervix, nevertheless, the growth is still within the cervical region. Stage 1 is subdivided in two substages – Stage IA and Stage IB.
- Stage IA: Cancer cells are visible through a microscope. Stage IA cancer cells can be further divided into two categories depending upon the size of the tumor. IA1 includes tumors that are less than 3mm deep and less than 7mm wide. While IA2 tumors are between 3 mm to 5 mm deep and less than 7 mm wide.
- Stage IB:Tumor is visible even without a microscope. Stage 1B tumors are divided into two categories, IB1 and IB2, depending upon the size of the tumor. In IB1, the tumor is less than 4 centimeters while in IB2 it is larger than 4 centimeters.
Stage II cervical cancer is the stage in which the cancer has invaded outside the cervix but still within the confinement of the pelvic region. It is further divided into two substages:
- Stage IIA: It is the stage in which cancer has invaded upper two-thirds of the vagina, but has not yet reached tissues surrounding the uterus.
- Stage IIB: It is the stage in which the cancer starts spreading around uterus.
This is the second last stage in which the cancer spreads to lower vagina and pelvic walls, posing threat to the kidneys as well. It is further divided into two substages:
- Stage IIIA: Cancer spreads to lower vagina but remains restricted within that area.
- Stage IIIB: Cancer spreads up to the pelvic walls. The tumor becomes so large that it may obstruct the flow of urine from bladder to kidneys, thus damaging the kidneys.
This is the final stage in which the cancer leaves the pelvic region and invades rest of the body organs. It is divided in two substages:
- Stage IVA: It is the stage in which cancer invades organs like bladder and rectum which are closely located to the cervix.
- Stage IVB: It is the stage in which the cancer reaches distant organs like abdomen, liver, lungs etc.
As evident from above, cancer can be best treated if it is detected during early stages. And as cervical cancer does not show any peculiar symptoms, it is better to get a routine check-up done. Especially, women above 35 years of age should regularly undergo pap-smear screening.