What is cervical cancer?

Qu'est-ce que le cancer du col de l'utérus ?

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is the development of a malignant tumor originating in the mucous membrane of the cervix, the narrow part between the vagina and the uterus. This cancer is caused by a sexually transmitted infection linked to prolonged contact with a virus of the human papillomavirus family (notably HPV 16 and 18). This infection is the most common STI in the world, with 80% of women infected at least once in their lives. In theory, HPV is eliminated naturally, but if not detected and treated in time, the infection can persist and develop into precancerous lesions and then cancer.

That's why it's so important to have regular check-ups, from the age of 25 and even after 50. They enable precancerous lesions to be detected and treated before they develop into cancer. Cervical cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers, even though it is often symptom-free. In most cases, this means that it can be treated in time, because cervical cancer develops slowly. In fact, on average, it takes around ten years from the time of contact with the HPV virus for the first precancerous lesions to develop, and another ten years before the lesions develop into cancer.

Finally, the virus is transmitted by contact with the skin and mucous membranes, particularly during sexual intercourse, with or without penetration. This is why condoms are often not enough, as they don't provide complete protection since the base of the penis is often not covered.

Two types of cancer :

Almost all cervical cancers (80-90%) originate in the lower part of the cervix, in the ectocervix. This cancer is known as squamous cell carcinoma.

The remaining 10-20% originate in the upper part of the cervix, in the endocervix. This cancer is called adenocarcinoma.

Other risk factors :

Although HPV infection remains the main cause of cervical cancer development, certain factors increase the risk of catching the virus or failing to eliminate it:

  • Having many partners, as with any STI, multiplies the risk of infection by the most virulent papillomaviruses, despite the use of a condom.

  • Smoking (even passive smoking)

  • long-term use of hormonal contraception

  • Presence of other STIs (notably chlamydia and genital herpes)

  • A weakened immune system (medical treatment or HIV)

  • Having had several children (multiparity)

Warning signs:

Papillomavirus infection generally presents few or no symptoms. Nevertheless, in the event of bleeding after intercourse or generally outside menstruation periods, pain during intercourse, pain in the pelvic area, we advise you to consult a specialist doctor.

Treatment:

If it turns out to be cervical cancer, several solutions may be proposed.

First of all, a study of the extent of the cancer will be carried out to establish a suitable cancer treatment protocol. This takes into account the size, depth and possible extension of the tumour. Indeed, although cervical cancer is often diagnosed at stage 1, i.e. localized to the cervix, it can also spread to neighbouring areas and further afield.

Treatment of cervical cancer is often based on surgery (removal of the upper layers of the cervix or removal of the cervix in less advanced cases, removal of the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, upper vagina and ovaries in more advanced cases) combined with radiotherapy (internal or external). Chemotherapy may then be considered in certain cases (if the tumour is over 4cm in size, or if it has spread to other areas). In all cases, the aim is to reduce the size of the tumour and/or block the multiplication and migration of cancer cells.

Is there a vaccine?

There is a vaccine against human papillomaviruses, which must be repeated several times and is recommended before any sexual activity. However, the vaccine does not protect against all HPV infections, of which there are many. As explained above, we can only advise you to have regular Pap smears.

Papillomaviruses in figures :

  • Every year, cervical cancer affects more than 3,000 women in France and 500,000 worldwide.

  • More than 1,100 women die from cervical cancer every year

  • ¾ of women are under 65 when diagnosed with cervical cancer

But HPV also causes :

  • 500 vulvar cancers

  • 300 vaginal cancers

  • 1,100 anal cancers

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The information contained in the articles on www-elia-lingerie.com is general information only. Although reviewed by health professionals, this information is not error-free, does not constitute health advice or consultation, and is not intended to provide a diagnosis or suggest a course of treatment. Under no circumstances may this information be used as a substitute for medical advice or consultation with a healthcare professional. If you have any questions, please consult your doctor.