Cervical cancer is considered the most common cancer among women around the world.
The cervix connects the vagina to the uterus in a woman’s reproductive system. In the U.S., there are about 12,990 new cases of cervical cancer estimated for 2016, according to the American Cancer Society. Of these new cases, 4,120 women are expected to die from cervical cancer.
Fortunately, the cervical cancer death rate has dropped by over 50% over the last 50 years, partially due to early screening. It’s also important to keep in mind the several warning signs of cervical cancer (1). This can help you start the treatment process quickly and effectively.
What Causes Cervical Cancer?
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), and all women are at risk after they begin to have sex. There are more than 100 types of HPVs, and 15 of them are thought to cause cervical cancer (2). HPV spreads as a result of sexual contact with an infected person, therefore, women who have had many sex partners have a greater risk of becoming infected, which in turn can raise the risk of developing cervical cancer. There is also link between a higher cervical cancer risk and:
- Becoming sexually active at a young age;
- Long-term stress;
- Certain genetic factors such as gene variations;
- Using birth control pills;
- Smoking; and
- Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
Other causes include:
- Giving birth young: Women who give birth before age 17 have greater chance of cervical cancer compared to women who were 25 or over.
- Several pregnancies: Women with at least three separate pregnancies increase their risk of cervical cancer.
- A weak immune system: Those with weak immune systems as a result of poor digestion, or HIV/AIDS.
Serious Symptoms and Signs of Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is often asymptomatic in the early stages. Symptoms are usually noticeable only once it’s spread to the surrounding tissues and organs. Knowing this information can go a long way toward saving your life. Cervical cancer treatment is more likely to be successful when the cancer is detected early, and this is commonly done through the HPV test and the Pap test, (also known as a Pap smear). If you experience the warning signs of cervical cancer, contact your doctor immediately. The following are cervical cancer symptoms that you shouldn’t ignore.
1. Pain during Sex
Painful sex is one of the key symptoms of cervical cancer (3). The medical term for pain during sexual intercourse is dyspareunia, and it’s usually sign of advanced cervical cancer, so if you experience pain during sex, get examined right away by your doctor. Other symptoms associated with pain during sex include a thick and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. An STD or an infection may also cause pain during sex.
2. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
The majority of women with cervical cancer experience abnormal vaginal bleeding. This bleeding may be a sign of cervical cancer if it occurs when you are not expecting your period, or when your menstrual flow is heavier or lighter than normal. When cancer spreads to nearby tissues, it creates new capillaries that can easily break and lead to bleeding. This may happen after sex, between periods, after a pelvic exam, or after menopause. The bleeding can also be due to other conditions such as an infection of the pelvic organs, pelvic inflammatory disease, or a hormonal imbalance such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
3. Unusual Vaginal Discharge
Odorless and clear vaginal discharge is normal, but if the discharge increases, smells foul, or becomes brown, bloody, or pale, or chunky in consistency, it may be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer. This is another serious symptom of cervical cancer and should be reported to your doctor immediately.
4. Urinary Discomfort
Discomfort during urination is one of the more obvious signs of cervical cancer. It presents as a tight, stinging, or burning sensation, and occurs when the cancer has spread to nearby tissue, so seek help to prevent further damage. Other causes of urinary discomfort include STDs, yeast infections, bladder issues, or urinary tract infections.
5. Pelvic Pain
Pelvic pain is a common symptom for women; however, if that pain lasts a long time and/or occurs frequently, it may be a sign of cervical cancer. Cramping is a normal part of the menstrual cycle, but women with cervical cancer may experience pelvic pain at unusual times, and the pain may occur any time of the month. Pelvic pain only occurs during the advanced stages of cervical cancer, so if this happens, contact your doctor immediately.
6. Longer and Heavier Periods
Most menstrual periods last from three to five days, though two to seven days is also considered normal. But if your period is longer and heavier than normal (menorrhagia), it could indicate cervical cancer. Bleeding is considered heavy if tampons or sanitary napkins must be changed every two hours. Other causes of heavy or long menstrual bleeding include fibroids, polyps, endometriosis, hormonal imbalances, kidney disease, thyroid disease, or liver disease. Certain medications can also trigger menorrhagia. Always discuss any change of your period with the doctor.
7. Frequent Urination
Drinking lots of fluids or being pregnant are common causes of frequent urination. However, incontinence is also an issue for those with cervical cancer. Frequent urination indicates that the cancer has spread past the cervix and is now affecting the bladder or other areas of the urinary tract. People with cervical cancer will often urinate several times throughout the day, and even find blood in the urine. If this is the case, inform your doctor right away.
8. Leg Pain
Leg pain and swelling is another cervical cancer symptom. This occurs due to blood flow obstruction when the cancer spreads to other organs. Swollen legs can often make it difficult to move around and function properly. When cervical cancer causes leg pain, it tends to be constant and intense, and there may also be back pain. Leg pain is also a symptom of poor circulation, varicose veins, blood clots, bursitis, and Achilles tendinitis, so it’s important to tell the doctor about leg pain to rule out other possible causes.
9. Unexplained Weight Loss
Similar to other types of cancer, cervical cancer can lead to unexplained weight loss. In cancer, the immune system works hard to fight it off. At that time, the body produces cytokines, which are small proteins that break down fat quicker than usual and will lead you to lose weight regardless of your eating habits. Other potential causes of unexplained weight loss include nutritional deficiencies, cirrhosis, tuberculosis, hepatitis, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, colitis, Addison’s disease, hyperthyroidism, parasites, HIV/AIDS, and other cancer types such as colorectal, stomach, liver, lung, and esophageal.
10. Constant Fatigue
Cancer sufferers often experience constant fatigue and a lack of energy, despite being rested, and this is a result of red blood cells being replaced by white blood cells in order to fight the cancer. The person will also experience a loss of appetite and a reduced amount of oxygen supply in the body. Besides cancer, other potential causes of constant fatigue include unhealthy eating habits, jet lag, anxiety, anemia, liver failure, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, stress, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Natural Treatment for Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is usually treated with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. However, there are also a number of natural remedies that might help with cervical cancer. The following are a few remedies and treatments to keep in mind:
1. A Plant-Based Diet
A healthy diet is important for the treatment of any cancer. The diet should focus on eating plenty of whole, plant-based foods. Foods that contain cancer-preventing compounds include cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, berries, walnuts, Brussels sprouts, avocados, asparagus, and fish. Make sure your fish is wild and from clean water sources. Whenever you can, choose organic produce, as organic plants are also thought to contain more phytonutrients. Also, avoid inflammatory and cancer-promoting foods such as dairy, bread products, and alcohol. It’s also a good idea to reduce your intake of red meat to once a week.
2. Key Nutrients
There are several key nutrients used in the treatment of cancer. For instance, vitamin B2, or riboflavin, can repair damaged cervical tissues and reduce cervical or reproductive system inflammation. A deficiency in vitamin B12 is also thought to increase the risk of cervical cancer, so it might be a good idea to supplement with B12 to build the immune system and kill cancer cells. A beta-carotene deficiency is also common with cervical cancer, and in turn, taking beta-carotene may help treat it. Other nutrients that fight cancer include vitamin A, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, L-glutamine, iodine, sulfur, magnesium, and proteolytic enzymes.
3. Herbal Therapy
Certain herbs also have anti-cancer properties. For example, turmeric contains a powerful anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin, which helps enhance the immune system, reduces cervical inflammation, kills HPV, and reduces cervical cancer symptoms such as heavy bleedings and pelvic pain. Other herbal remedies that fight cancer include cat’s claw, goldenseal, garlic, cannabis, astragalus, and medicinal mushrooms such as maitake and coriolus versicolor.
4. Mind-Body Techniques
A number of mind-body techniques can help reduce the stress related to cervical cancer. Try to decreasing stress through mindfulness meditation, breathing exercises, tai chi, qigong, and yoga.
Acupuncture is known to treat side effects associated with chemotherapy such as vomiting and nausea. In a study published in the journal Acupuncture Research in 2013, researchers found that early acupuncture treatment was effective at promoting bladder function in patients undergoing cervical cancer operations (4). The study included 60 cervical cancer post-operative patients who were using a catheter due to uroschesis.
In a study published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies in 2013, researchers found that homeopathic lycopodium clavatum is capable of inducing cell death in cervical cancer cells (5). Other homeopathic remedies for cervical cancer include iodum, sepia, argentum nitricum, hydrastis, and kreosote. Sepia is often used for a green or yellow discharge from the vagina. Argentum nitricum is effective for frequent vaginal bleeding during periods.
Women between 20 and 30 should get screened for cervical cancer every three years; for those between 30 and 65 years old, it’s three to five years.
Quick Tips to Prevent Cervical Cancer
- There are also several ways to prevent the signs of cervical cancer in the first place. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are a few self-care and prevention tips that may help you avoid cervical cancer:
- Avoid processed foods.
- Maintain a healthy body weight and get regular exercise.
- Reduce your exposure to environmental toxins from household chemical cleaners, makeup, and plastics.
- Avoid non-stick cookware, which are coated in PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) or other perfluorinated compounds.
- Drink clean and filtered water.
- Get rid of your microwave; microwaves may create radiolytic compounds that may be harmful to humans, but research is still ongoing.
- Women between 20 and 30 should get screened for cervical cancer every three years; for those between 30 and 65 years old, it’s three to five years.
- Quit smoking, and/or avoid secondhand smoke.