What's the Difference Between Cervical Cancer and Uterine Cancer?
Cervical cancer and uterine cancer are two types of gynecologic cancer diagnosed in thousands of women each year.
The cervix is part of the uterus located at the base of this reproductive organ. The cervix is the opening that connects the uterus to the vagina. The uterus is the sac in which a fetus develops and grows during pregnancy. While cervical cancer and uterine cancer can develop mere centimeters apart, the causes, symptoms and treatments are different.
Cervical cancer is more common, affecting half a million women worldwide. The average age of cervical cancer patients may fluctuate anywhere from the early thirties to mid-fifties. Typically, there are few to no symptoms in the early stages of this disease, so regular gynecological screenings are recommended.
This cancer can develop over many years as the result of strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). It can lead to cervical dysplasia, which, if left untreated, can cause precancer or cancer. However, through basic preventive care, this can not only be detected and treated but avoided altogether. While HPV can potentially lead to precancer or cancer, that outcome is not guaranteed.
There are different strains of HPV, and some are more aggressive and more likely to cause precancer or cancer. Some strains can be cleared up, but regardless of the strain that is detected, it is important to see your gynecologist regularly. This is especially true if a woman carries an aggressive strain.
Cervical cancer patients are typically women in their childbearing years, so if surgery is necessary, the surgeon will remove as little of the cervix as possible in the process of removing all the cancerous cells. This helps avoid pregnancy complications down the road.
There is a vaccine available to women who are at risk of HPV, and those who choose to utilize this vaccine typically are at very low risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cancer of the uterus may develop from abnormal cells of the uterine mucosa. Uterine cancer affects more than 350,000 women worldwide each year. The average age of a person diagnosed with uterine cancer is 60. Bleeding is often a warning factor in the early stages of this disease.
If patients go to the doctor at the first sign of this disease, there is a greater chance of recovery. The uterus, Fallopian tubes and ovaries are often removed during surgery as part of treatment. Depending on how advanced the cancer is, further steps may be necessary such as radiation or chemotherapy.
Healthy habits make a difference
Factors such as obesity, diabetes and hormonal imbalances may predispose someone to uterine cancer, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle is highly recommended. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in fatty foods is also important in lowering your risk of a variety of cancers. Additionally, try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. And avoid tobacco. While tobacco can cause cancer of the lungs, it can also contribute to myriad other cancers, including cervical and uterine.
Early detection is key
There is no way to determine if you will develop a gynecologic cancer, so being aware of any signs and symptoms within your body is crucial to early detection. Any unusual vaginal bleeding should be addressed by a doctor immediately, especially if that bleeding occurs after menopause.
Additional symptoms may include unexplained pain in the pelvis, pain during sexual intercourse, abnormal or irregular menstruation, heavier-than-usual menstruation, spotting, abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, fatigue, nausea or weight loss.
If you experience any of these symptoms and they persist for more than two weeks, seek out the advice of a medical professional.
Regular gynecologic health screenings should start at the age of 21, and along with these visits, maintaining the aforementioned healthy habits goes a long way toward avoiding a cancer diagnosis.