By Kathryn E. Vinson, MS, CCRC
Once your life has been impacted by the beast that we call cancer, I think it’s safe to say that you become hypervigilant about its signs and symptoms. The scary part is that for a large number of cancers, their symptoms don’t show up until it is in its late, more advanced stages. Cervical cancer is among those that can grow undetected, which is why screening is so vitally important for us ladies. Let’s take some time today to talk about stage 4 cervical cancer, its symptoms, outlook, and treatment options.
What are the symptoms of stage 4 cervical cancer?
The symptoms of stage 4 cervical cancer can be difficult to differentiate from other diseases, so if you experience these symptoms, please see your gynecologist soon. The American Cancer Society gives us the following warning signs for cervical cancer (directly quoted):
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as bleeding after vaginal sex, bleeding after menopause, bleeding and spotting between periods, and having (menstrual) periods that are longer or heavier than usual. Bleeding after douching or after a pelvic exam may also occur.
- An unusual discharge from the vagina − the discharge may contain some blood and may occur between your periods or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
It is vital for women to know what is “normal” for their bodies and their cycles, so that irregularities can be identified quickly.
Many cervical cancers can take years to grow from the “dysplasia” or “abnormal cells” stage to actual cancer, so getting in for annual pap smears can be lifesaving.
What is the prognosis for stage 4 cervical cancer?
When caught early, the 5-year survival rate for cervical cancer is quite high – 92%! Sadly, as the disease spreads and metastasizes to distant parts of the body, the survival rate drops to only 17%. I know I sound like a broken record, but this is why screening is so important. No, its not a fun day, but go see your gynecologist – it could save your life!
How is stage 4 cervical cancer treated?
Stage IV cervical cancer is further broken down into stage IVA and stage IVB. Stage IVA is treated similarly to stages IIB and III, with chemoradiation in an attempt to cure the disease. Stage IVB, however, is largely considered incurable, and the aim of treatment is to easy pain and suffering and to prolong the patient’s life. Radiation and chemotherapy are typically used to slow the growth of the disease, and other drugs, such as Keytruda, an immunotherapy agent, may be employed as well. Other options include searching for a clinical trial in your area. More information on these options can be found on our clinical trials page.
New findings on cervical cancer
Knowing that 70% of cervical cancers are known to be caused by the Human pappilomavirus (HPV), it is comforting to me to know that young people now have the opportunity to be vaccinated against this disease. Please note that although I am personally pro-vaccines, I do not speak for Cancer Horizons as a whole on this subject, and we are neither endorsing nor are opposed to the HPV vaccine – we just want you to have the info. If you would like some more data on this vaccine, please check out Vaccinating Against Cancer.
With all that being said, researchers in Finland have recently found that a simple test can help identify women with moderated cervical dysplasia whose disease is more likely to progress to cervical cancer. Science Daily tells us:
Author and Emeritus Professor Attila Lorincz from Queen Mary University of London explained: “It is scary for young women with a potentially serious dysplasia to be told that they may get cancer if they do not undergo surgery. Unfortunately, surgery can lead to a painful and distressing recovery period. In future pregnancies there are substantially higher rates of miscarriage, infection, or premature delivery for mothers as well as many risks for the fetus. Our study shows that most women with moderate dysplasia can be followed without treatment until their disease regresses. This gives the women a better chance for easy and safe pregnancies in the future.”
I love hearing about new methods that are assisting with early diagnosis and helping patients live longer, healthier lives.
As always, much love, many prayers, and abundant blessings to all of the warriors out there!!