Do you have questions about cervical cancer and not sure where to look for the answers? Tired of reading articles that are too factual or use medical jargon? Then look no further.

Dr Suresh discusses Cervical Cancer, symptoms, testing and treatment.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix. Sounds straight forward right? Well to understand more about cervical cancer we need to know what a cervix is and how it relates to the rest of your body.

What’s a cervix?

A picture showing what a cervix is
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It’s fine if you don’t know. Despite what you may think most people don’t know much about their bodies. As a doctor I’m always answering questions about body parts and things about their body that people just don’t know.

Your cervix is the bit at the bottom of the uterus, your womb. Technically it’s not a part of the uterus, but let’s not get bogged down too much with the specifics.

It joins the uterus to your vagina, and it’s what allows babies to come out when they need to. The cervix also opens once a month usually for your period and allows the menstrual products to escape.

It also acts as a barrier to the uterus to prevent infection and other unwanted stuff going inside the womb and it’s made up of 2 parts, rings of muscle, called an Os. The outer (external) and inner (internal) Os. Collectively they stop all those things going in to and out of the uterus that you don’t want passing through.

Things you might not want going in:

  • Semen and Sperm – unless trying for a baby
  • Infections
  • Anything you put inside your vagina

Things you don’t want coming out:

  • Your uterus
  • A baby until it’s ready to come out
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Can I feel my own cervix?

Sure if you want to try. You shouldn’t feel it instinctively or feel it’s presence, but if you do then it could be a sign of something wrong so go see a doctor.

You can feel it with your fingers if you can get them far enough in. Don’t be tempted to keep shoving until you find it, you will probably just hurt yourself. Be gentle and go slow if you’ve never explored your vagina before.

Your cervix is usually towards the back of your vagina, but sometimes it can be a little more forwards so don’t worry if you can’t find it straight away. If you do manage to find it then it should feel like a firm lump, around 2-3cm in size. If you do find it and it hurts when you touch it, go see a doctor because pain isn’t normal.

Is the cervix my G-spot?

No. There’s divided opinion on whether the G-spot even exists, but one sure is for sure – the G-spot is not your cervix. You can play with your cervix if you like, and can get your fingers in deep enough, or someone else’s, but it probably won’t do anything for you and may just hurt. It’s certainly not going to give you an orgasm.

Back to Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer one of the top 20 most common cancers in the world, so it’s fairly common, although the rates are dropping. This is mainly due to cervical screening programs, or you may know them as PAP smears. Click here if you want to know the history of Pap smears and how they got their name.

It’s cancer of the cervix, and like any cancer is when cells start to change and grow abnormally. Thankfully this doesn’t just happen over night, it’s a gradual change that can be picked up if you are examined early enough.

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Cervical Cancer Screening

Also know as the CST or Pap smears, or in some circles ‘getting your pap’. The Cervical cancer screening test is when a doctor or nurse examines you and takes some cells off the cervix for testing for signs of cervical cancer, or things which cause cervical cancer.

You can read all about changes to the Australian cervical screening here. Other good sites are Cancer Research UK, The Australian screening program and the US screening program.

The US program is a little different from the others and other countries may have differences to so speak to your doctor about it for more info.

The test is fairly simple and straight forward, and yes it’s a bit embarrassing to have done and can be uncomfortable, you shouldn’t put off going to have it done. You can read more about the test here.

Stages of Cervical Cancer

As we said cervical cancer doesn’t just happen overnight, it develops over time and can be picked up at an early stage. Even before there are harmful changes the tests may pick up a virus – HPV – that can cause an issue.

What’s HPV?

Human Pappilloma Virus HPV
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Cancer Council has a great summary of HPV, but basically it stands for Human Pappilloma Virus. It’s present in many people and isn’t usually of too much concern, but we know it can be responsible for causing cancers.

As well as causing cancer it’s usually the cause of warts both on normal skin and around the genitals (your bits).

Don’t worry though, depending on the type (strain) of HPV it might not be anything you need to be concerned about. The CST commonly picks up HPV but it may not one of the worrying types. If it’s picked up then your doctor will advise you on what treatment is needed.

Can I get treated for HPV?

Yes although you may not even need it. Sometimes when we pick up HPV on screening we may just recommend that you repeat the test in a year. That’s because often it’ll just come away as the skin cells that have that virus die off and come away naturally.

If any further treatment or tests are needed then your doctor will advise you of this.

Can I protect myself from HPV?

Absolutely. Whilst the only guaranteed way of preventing HPV is to never touch or go near anybody, ever, that’s not practical. The best way to protect yourself is to get the HPV vaccine like Gardasil. The ‘9’ version protects you from 9 types of HPV including the most dangerous.

Stages of Cervical Cancer

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Source: Cancer Council SA

Don’t be scared by the infographic above. It’s there to simply show the stages of cervical cancer and demonstrate that cervical cancer isn’t all the worst stage – there’s grades. At all stages of the cancer treatment is available so don’t panic.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

There are a few symptoms of cervical cancer that you should be aware of. These can be subtle so make sure to see your doctor if you suspect there’s an issue.

Symptoms include:

  • Unusual bleeding from your vagina
  • Pain during sex or penetration (if using toys)
  • Pain in the pelvis
  • Unusual discharge
  • Heavy or abnormal periods

There’s other things that can cause those symptoms so don’t panic if you have one of those issues, but they do mean there’s something going on so you should see your doctor to discuss and maybe get an exam done.

Treatment of cervical cancer and HPV

Colposcopy
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There are treatment options available but it depends on how advanced your cancer is. The first thing would be to get whatever treatment you need from your CST result. You should speak to your doctor to discuss it as it will depend on a number of factors.

For example most types of HPV will simply come away within a year and so no treatment is needed often. The doctor may simply advise that you come back in a year to have another rest to see if they’ve disappeared. Very often they will have.

If it persists then it might mean getting a more detailed exam called a colposcopy (or a colp) where they might also do some treatment.

Like answer cancer more advanced stages may require surgery or chemotherapy

Myths about cervical cancer and HPV

Below are some of the common myths about HPV and cervical cancer

You can’t get HPV or cervical cancer if you are a virgin

Wrong. You can get them if you’ve never had vaginal sex. If you’ve ever had any kind of human interaction you can have HPV. If you’ve ever had any kind of sexual contact then you can get HPV down below too, and this includes vaginal sex, oral sex, anal sex or fingers or toys.

HPV means you are dirty

HPV is not about hygiene. There’s no way you can ‘clean’ HPV off you as it tends to live in the skin cells. It’s not because you are dirty or because you do or don’t wash inside your vagina (douching). If you are diagnosed with HPV you don’t need to start douching either.

HPV is rare

Nope. It’s very common actually, far more than you might think. It’s estimated over 4 in 5 people have or has had HPV at some point in their life.

HPV means you are a slut or sleep around

Incorrect again, it means nothing like that. As we said 4 in 5 people will have HPV so it’s really common. If you’ve ever touched anybody then you can have HPV, it doesn’t just come about from sex.

You can’t get it if you use a condom

False I’m afraid. You can still get HPV, although it is less likely. It’s because whilst the penis may be covered, the rest of the body isn’t and so you can still get HPV passed on.

I’ve been vaccinated I can’t get it

You can. Although the vaccine protects from 9 main strains of HPV, it’s not 100% and doesn’t cover other types of HPV.

If I have HPV then I’ll get cancer

Another big myth about HPV. Whilst strains 16 and 18 can cause cancer, and are the number 1 cause of cervical cancer, the other strains typically do not carry as much risk. Just because you are found to have HPV doesn’t mean you will get cancer, so don’t worry.

You can’t have sex if you have cervical cancer

You very much can have sex! Now of course sex comes in all shapes in sizes, but even penis in vagina sex is absolutely fine assuming it’s not causing you any pain or distress. If you have doubts then speak to your doctor.

Hopefully now you know all you need to do about HPV and cervical cancer, but if you need a more in depth read please click here.

Originally published on Medspace by Dr Suresh Khirwadkar

Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

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