The incidence of cervical cancer in Puerto Rico continues to increase, placing its average at 13.9 per 100,000 women, according to the most recent statistics from the Central Cancer Registry of Puerto Rico for the year 2014. This average increased 1.3 in five years from the one recorded in 2009 of 12.6, according to the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute, surpassing the corresponding rate for the population of Hispanic women in the United States. United of 10.7.
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer. When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells. You can reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer by having screening tests and receiving a vaccine that protects against HPV infection. Consult our San Cristóbal Gynecology team to learn more.
The type of cervical cancer that you have helps determine your prognosis and treatment. The main types of cervical cancer are:
Sometimes, both types of cells are involved in cervical cancer. Very rarely, cancer occurs in other cells in the cervix.
Early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms of more-advanced cervical cancer include:
If you have any signs or symptoms that concern you, make an appointment with your doctor.
If cervical cancer is suspected, your doctor is likely to start with a thorough examination of your cervix. A special magnifying instrument (colposcope) is used to check for abnormal cells. During the colposcopic examination, your doctor is likely to take a sample of cervical cells (biopsy) for laboratory testing. To obtain tissue, your doctor may use:
If the punch biopsy or endocervical curettage is worrisome, your doctor may perform one of the following tests:
If your doctor determines that you have cervical cancer, you’ll have further tests to determine the extent (stage) of your cancer. Your cancer’s stage is a key factor in deciding on your treatment. Staging exams include:
Stages of cervical cancer include:
Treatment for cervical cancer depends on several factors, such as the stage of the cancer, other health problems you may have and your preferences. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of the three may be used.
Surgery: Early-stage cervical cancer is typically treated with surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy). A hysterectomy can cure early-stage cervical cancer and prevent recurrence. But removing the uterus makes it impossible to become pregnant. Your doctor may recommend:
Minimally invasive surgery may be an option for early-stage cervical cancer. Surgery that preserves the possibility of becoming pregnant also may be an option, if you have very early-stage cervical cancer without lymph node involvement.
Radiation Therapy: This technique uses high-powered beams of energy, such as X-rays and protons, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy is typically done using a large machine that aims the energy beams at your body (external beam radiation). San Cristóbal has one of the most sophisticated radiotherapy machines in Puerto Rico, which targets radiation efficiently to aggressively treat tumors without damaging surrounding organs.
Meanwhile, radiation can also be done by placing radioactive material inside your body through Brachytherapy. Premenopausal women may stop menstruating and begin menopause as a result of radiation therapy. If you might want to get pregnant after radiation treatment, ask your doctor about ways to preserve your eggs before treatment starts.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses medications, usually injected into a vein, to kill cancer cells. Low doses of chemotherapy are often combined with radiation therapy, since chemotherapy may enhance the effects of the radiation. Higher doses of chemotherapy are used to control advanced cervical cancer that may not be curable.
Palliative Care: Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on providing relief from pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care specialists work with you, your family and your other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. Palliative care can be used while undergoing other aggressive treatments, such as surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy. When palliative care is used along with all of the other appropriate treatments, people with cancer may feel better and live longer. Palliative care is provided by our skilled team of doctors, nurses and specially trained professionals, aimed at improving the quality of life for people with cancer and their families. This form of care is offered alongside curative or other treatments you may be receiving. Learn more about San Cristóbal Palliative Care.
San Cristobal Cancer Institute offers a wide array of options to help our patients feel calm and supported during the process of screening, diagnosis and treatment, as well as getting back to life after cancer. Browse our alternatives for patients – including financial aid for those eligible – in our Patient Resources section.
If you’d like to learn more about Cervical Cancer through our San Cristóbal Education Resources, attend our events or learn about our Cancer Center, please contact us.
Education is one of our strongest tools at San Cristóbal Cancer Institute, empowering patients and their families with complete and updated information about more than a dozen types of cancer and providing first-hand knowledge through our dedicated team of cancer experts. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch with us. We look forward to offering you and your family powerful cancer awareness and the most comprehensive care.