Cervicitis is inflammation of the cervix that can cause symptoms. Cervicitis is quite common in women during their childbearing years. Cervicitis causes include:
- Infections, especially from sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) such as bacterial infections (e.g., gonorrheal or chlamydial infections), viral infections (e.g., herpes or genital warts), or trichomonas (an organism that can cause vaginal infections).
- Irritation from a foreign body such as an Intrauterine Contraceptive Device (IUCD or IUD), a forgotten tampon, or a pessary (a device placed in the vagina to hold sagging pelvic organs in place).
Sometimes the cause of cervicitis cannot be determined. Cervicitis can cause a vaginal discharge and foul odor, tenderness or pain in the pelvic region, and/or spotting between periods or after sex.
Polyps are benign (non-cancerous) growths or tumors that can grow on the cervix. They can vary in size and can cause vaginal bleeding. Most often polyps are discovered during a pelvic exam or a colposcopy. Usually cervical polyps can be removed in the office with no anesthesia.
Genital warts or condyloma are growths that are caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is usually transmitted sexually. Some types of HPV have been linked to the development of cervical cancer. Anyone with a known or suspected HPV infection should have regular checkups and pap smears. Genital warts can usually be treated in the office and should be treated as soon as possible since they can spread easily to your sexual partner(s). Genital warts can return at any time, even after treatment. Safe sex is of the utmost importance, particularly when a person is infection with HPV.
Cervical dysplasia is when there are changes to surface cervical cells. This is when normal (benign) cervical cells are replaced by abnormal cells. Dysplasia is not cancer but, if not treated, these cells can become cancerous. Dysplasia can usually be treated successfully. Dysplasia is more common in young women and teens but can be found in women of any age. Dysplasia ranges from mild, moderate, severe, and carcinoma in situ (CIS). CIS is not a true form of cancer but will most likely develop into cancer if left untreated. There are a number of terms that you will hear in reference to cervical dysplasia. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN): CIN 1 includes mild dysplasia, CIN 2 includes moderate dysplasia, and CIN 3 includes severe dysplasia and CIS. The terms CIN and dysplasia can refer to a pap smear or biopsy result. Squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) includes low-grade (CIN 1) and changes linked to HPV OR high-grade (CIN 2 and 3) and CIS. Risk factors for dysplasia and cervical cancer include:
- Having genital warts;
- Having had more than one sexual partner (or having a sexual partner who has had more than one partner);
- Having sex at a young age; and/or
Invasive Cervical Cancer
Invasive cervical cancer is when cancerous cervical cells move into deeper tissue layers and spread to other organs. Cancer is when cells grow out of control and cannot perform their normal function. Only cancer (malignant) cells spread. They travel throughout the body via blood and lymph. Cancer cells also spread throughout the tissue next to the cervix. Cancer is most treatable (curable) when it is found before it spreads. Cervical cancer is most common in women between 35-50 years of age, although it can occur at any age.
Symptoms of cervical cancer can include abnormal bleeding, spotting, or vaginal discharge. Advanced cancer can cause pain, urinary problems, and/or leg swelling. These symptoms can be caused by many different things and don’t mean you have cancer but you should see a physician without delay to make sure and to determine what is causing these symptoms.