Cervical cancer is a disease that starts out at a woman’s cervix, which is basically the lower part of the uterus (womb). A woman develops cervical cancer when the cells in her cervix become abnormal and start to grow and multiply uncontrollably to eventually form tumors.
Cervical cancer starts with pre-cancerous changes (pre-cancers). Cervical pre-cancers usually take several years to develop into full blown cervical cancer, but this change can take place in less than a year in some cases.
Whilst one of the most common symptoms of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding, there are cases where obvious symptoms are completely absent until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage. The good news is that treating all pre-cancers can prevent the development of almost all true cancers, so early detection is extremely important. That is why women must keep a close check on their health and undergo regular checkups with qualified specialists.
Women can do a few things during their lifetime to reduce the chances of getting cervical cancer.
HPV Vaccination: This is a primary prevention for cervical cancer. Since 2006 in Malaysia, we have launched the cervical cancer vaccine, which can protect women from the HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) that can cause cervical cancer. Women worldwide are encouraged to get vaccinated because it plays a key role in strengthening your immunity to fight these viruses. In fact, the Malaysian Ministry of Health is giving this vaccination out school girls of certain ages for free. Adults can be vaccinated as well, but they will have to purchase it themselves.
Pap Smear (Papanicolau test): Even though a woman has been vaccinated, she will still need to undergo regular Pap smears at least once a year to be safe. The Pap smear is the most basic and widely applied screening test for cervical cancer in the world, performed to detect cervical cancer from a very early stage onwards – at the first sight of pre cancer cells. If a woman has only been found to have pre cancer cells in her cervix, the treatment is very simple, straightforward, and much cheaper as compared to a more advanced stage of cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, Pap smears can be perceived as being costly, especially because many women are still unaware of the importance of this screening process. Some women are also worried about undergoing this process as it may look a painful and uncomfortable experience, and it can be if performed by inexperienced or poorly trained personnel. In fact, anxiety from the patient may add to that discomfort by causing a bit of strain in her posture, making it more difficult for the doctor or medical attendant to perform the Pap smear. But Pap smears should not be a painful experience if done correctly.
That is why we at Prince Court Medical Centre ensure that our doctors and nurses are well-trained to take a holistic approach in minimizing patient discomfort throughout the entire process. We understand that we need to help our patients relax by prompting, coaxing, and providing clear and helpful explanations to them. So on top of the technical expertise and decades of world class training and experience that our top gynecologists possess, we pride ourselves with caring medical practitioners who emphasize on delivering a warm human touch along with our medical procedures and services.
Colposcopy: When a woman receives abnormal Pap smear results, we would normally recommend Colposcopy. This test can be performed on either an outpatient or inpatient basis, because we sometimes need to use anesthesia or sedation if a patient is overly anxious. The procedure involves the use of an instrument called the colposcope, which is a very powerful lighted binocular microscope used to magnify the cervix to enable the gynecologist to pinpoint the origin of the pre cancer cell and treat the patient on the spot. Through colposcopy, the patient is both diagnosed and also given treatment.
HDR Brachytherapy: When a tumor is found, Prince Court Medical Centre offers HDR (High-dose rate) Brachytherapy, a new and highly effective method of administering radiation treatment for tumors. This procedure will allow for the administration of a very high dose of radiation to the cancer target, and to eliminate and minimize the radiation to the surrounding normal tissue, and therefore minimizing the side effects to the patient.
There are four main stages of cervical cancer. Surgery should be done only for the early stage which are stage 1 and stage 2; the later and more advanced stages would require radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. For surgery on patients with stage 1 and stage 2 cervical cancers, Prince Court Medical Centre is currently one of the few hospitals in the region that offers robotic surgery, which is what we refer to as minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive surgery can be expensive, but its advantages over conventional operations make it an attractive choice to consider.
The benefits of minimally invasive surgery at Prince Court Medical Centre are as follows:
If the cancer has advanced beyond a certain point and is no longer responsive to chemotherapy or surgery then the next stage is palliative care. Here at Prince Court the palliative care physician becomes involved in order to guide, assist and just be there for the patients, their families and loved ones in this most trying of times.
It’s all about quality of life care and the palliative physician is instrumental in the administration of drugs and medication, supervising nutritional intakes as well as physiotherapy exercises. But together with the medical personnel, our doctors also provide counseling for the patients and their loved ones – engaging with them on their fears and worries for the present and the future and doing all they can to make this difficult period as painless as possible. At heart, it’s about the patient living their days with dignity.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancers for women in the world, but precautionary steps can be taken to significantly reduce the chances of developing cervical cancer as well as increase your chances of survival should it start to manifest. Of course, we cannot ignore the obvious fact that a healthy lifestyle and positive outlook on life will always contribute to the overall outcome of ones wellbeing, so take care and be aware!