Symptoms and causes

What is it?

The uterus, vagina (‘scabbard’ in Latin), ovaries and fallopian tubes belong to the woman's internal genitalia. They are located in the lower part of the abdominal cavity (the small pelvis). The small and large labia, the clitoris and the entrance to the vagina belong to the external genitalia.

The uterine body has the shape and size of an inverted pear. The main function of the uterus is to implant a fertilised embryo. The embryo grows into a fetus and remains there until the baby is born.

Although uterine cancer and cervical cancer both originate in the uterus, they have a very different cause and disease progression. The treatment of these two diseases is also different. Cervical cancer is almost always caused by the so-called HPV virus (human papilloma virus). There are more than 100 types of HPV, most of which are harmless. Most adults have had an HPV infection through sexual contact, which usually heals on its own. An HPV infection that does not go away may cause cervical cancer. Cervical cancer itself is not contagious. The disorder occurs in the so-called 'transition zone' between the cylindric epithelium that covers the inside of the cervical canal and the squamous epithelium that covers the outside of the cervix and the vaginal wall. Pre-recurring changes can be detected through screening.

Symptoms

Usually the first thing a woman notices is an unusual bloody discharge, often after sexual contact. It does not, however, always clearly entail a bleeding. If there is only a little blood loss, the discharge is brownish. Sometimes a small amount of blood loss just leaves a few brown smudges in the underwear.

Diagnosis and treatment

Treatment of cervical cancer depends on the type of cervical cancer, the location and size of the tumour, the extent of the disease, and the general condition and age of the patient. The treatment may consist of:

Sometimes a targeted therapy may be appropriate.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Integrated Cancer Centre in Ghent
Gynaecological Centre
General gynaecology

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021
Supervising author: Dr Van Den Broecke Dirk