Understanding Cervical Cancer - Ask The Pharmacist

Jan 17, 2017
In recognition of cervical cancer awareness month, Express Scripts specialist pharmacists in the Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center® provide information for understanding the risk factors, symptoms and treatment of cervical cancer.
Tags
  • Cancer
  • Female

RPh Computer Article

An estimated 12,800 new cases of invasive cervical cancer will be diagnosed in 2017 alone.

Cervical cancer was once one of the most common causes of cancer death for American women. Fortunately, the death rate has dropped by more than half primarily from greater use of screening measures, such as the Pap test, which can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops. It also can help find cervical cancer early – in its most curable stage.

The specialist pharmacists in the Express Scripts Oncology Therapeutic Resource Center® help patients and caregivers understand the condition and manage the complex treatment regimens that come with a cervical cancer diagnosis.

Understanding Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells lining the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus. Squamous and glandular cells are typically involved in cervical cancer with 9 out of 10 cases being squamous cell carcinomas.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Infection: HPV infection can transfer from person to person through sexual contact or even skin-to-skin contact
  • Diet: Diets low in fruits and vegetables can increase risk of cervical cancer
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES, a hormone drug used between 1940 and 1971 for some women who were in danger of miscarriages, can cause cervical cancer in the daughters of the woman who took this drug while pregnant
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): Weakened immune systems may make HIV patients more susceptible to the HPV virus and other early cancers
  • Multiple Pregnancies/Early Pregnancy: Women who have had 3 or more full-term pregnancies or were younger than 17 at the time of their first full-term pregnancy are almost twice as likely to develop cervical cancer
  • Birth Control Pills
  • Chlamydia Infection
  • Smoking
  • Family History : Cervical cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages. Some symptoms that may indicate the presence of advanced cervical cancer and should be followed up with a physician include:
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • An unusual discharge from the vagina
  • Pain during intercourse

Treatment for Cervical Cancer

Common treatment options for the earliest stages of cervical cancer are either surgery or radiation combined with chemotherapy. For later stages, radiation combined with chemo is usually the main treatment. Advanced cervical cancer is often treated with chemotherapy alone.

The following side effects are commonly associated with medications used to treat cervical cancer:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of hair
  • Mouth sores
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • An increased chance of infection (from a shortage of white blood cells)
  • Bleeding or bruising after minor cuts or injuries (because of a shortage of blood platelets)
  • Shortness of breath (due to low red blood cell counts)
  • Menstrual changes
  • Neuropathy

A key part of ensuring healthier outcomes is staying adherent to the prescribed medication regimen. Always take the right dose at the right time as prescribed by the physician. This will help maximize efficacy and minimize side effects. If the side effects are severe, do not change the dosage without consulting the physician.

Read more information about managing the side effects of cancer treatment.

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