Cervical Cancer Patient Advocate, Navigator or Health Advocate
The concept of patient advocacy in its current form was developed in 1950’s as the treatment of cancer patients grew more and more technically complicated, as a means to make the voice of the patient more readily heard. In today’s world of constantly evolving medical techniques, treatments, and services, the average individual cannot be expected to be thoroughly acquainted with any and all this material. So it becomes the function of the cervical cancer patient advocate to perform a variety of services to ease the burden of the patient, and their family, as they learn to deal with every aspect of the disease.
The primary concern of the cervical cancer advocate to the support the cancer patient in all aspects of life with the disease, whether they be physical, emotional, or financial. An advocate can assist the patient in investigating available treatment options and educating the patient on the efficacy of each of them, be it pharmacological or surgical. By educating the patient, the advocate can be of great assistance in helping them make an informed decision about their course of action, and the possible side effects and outcomes. Support may also involve recommending counseling services for the patient, and their family members, to help them cope from day to day. Cervical cancer patient advocates may also be of assistance in helping the patient, and their caregivers, deal with any physical debilitation resulting from the disease, and its treatment.
Another aspect of cervical cancer patient advocacy is assistance in navigating the financial aspects of treating the disease. An advocate can act as a liaison between the patient and his or her insurance company, assuring that the patient receives any and all benefits to which they are entitled. When one is dealing with a serious disease, it is quite easy to lose track of other aspects of your life. An advocate can help to seek out sources of assistance which can ease the financial burden of the patient.
Education is also a major function of a cancer advocate. Both the patient, and their caregivers, are often in need of information about how the disease will affect their lives, both during its progression, and in its aftermath. Patients must be informed about how their condition will affect their mobility, the ability to care for themselves, and if they will be left with any permanent impairment to their lifestyle. Caregivers need to be instructed in mechanisms, or techniques they must use to cope with the patient’s daily care, such as injections, proper care of surgical dressings, etc.
The cancer patient, above everything else, needs to know that there is someone in their corner. Someone who will help them find their way through the confusing, and sometimes daunting, world of modern medicine. Someone who will have their best interests in mind as they face challenges presented every day in their struggle to find, secure, and finance the best treatment available.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer affecting the lower end of the uterus which is also called the uterine cervix. Depending on the extent of the parts involved and whether the surrounding tissues are involved, the cancer is variously staged from 0-4. The higher the number’ the more parts around and away from the cervix are already affected. Squamous cells carcinoma and adenocarcinoma are the two types of cancer affecting this area. Squamous cells cases are the majority. There is a period where the cells are in the precancerous stage and when spotted at this point the prognosis is usually much better.
The precancerous and early cancer stages when the problem is localized may have no symptoms. When the cancer involves the surrounding tissues the symptoms may include:
· Vaginal discharge that is not normal for the particular woman or the time of her cycle. The discharge may be blood stained and occur when least expected as after menopause.
· Abnormal per vaginal bleeding. This include after intercourse, spotting between periods, heavy menses (menorrhagia) or prolonged periods (polymenorrhagia). A simple gynecological exam may also trigger bleeding.
· Dyspareunia (pain during sex) may also be present.
· If the cancer has advanced, general symptoms of a debilitating disease will be observed. This will also include symptoms from areas and organs where the cancer has metastasized to. Wasting, anorexia, nausea, pains in various parts of the body may all be present.
Infections and other pelvic conditions can cause similar symptoms but it is safe to keep cervical cancer in mind when these symptoms are observed.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Much is known on how cervical cancer comes about and how it progresses. But the exact cause and reason as to why one woman will get it and another will not is not known. Genetics play a key role in the incidence of this cancer.
The human papilloma virus (HPV) is the main suspect in creating conditions that favor the tumor cells development. The virus produce two proteins called E6 and E7. The two have the ability to put off genes that are responsible for suppressing tumor cells.
Uncircumcised males have a higher risk of having HPV which they may in turn transmit to their heterosexual contacts.
Smoking, multiple sexual partners and HIV infection are added risk factors.
· A routine Pap smear test may reveal the presence of the cancer or the precancerous state.
· Colposcopy will help to visualize the state of the cervix and identify abnormal areas if any.
· During colposcopy, a biopsy may be taken.
· Cervical biopsy for histology.
· A cone biopsy can also be done as a diagnostic measure or as a therapeutic procedure.
· Curettes of the endo-cervical region.
· In advanced cases the doctor may do cystoscopy (examination of the bladder) and proctoscopy (examination of the rectum) to see whether metastases have occurred or not.
· Other advanced tests are done depending on what the doctor is suspecting or looking for. These tests are: ultrasound, MRI, X-rays, CT scan, IVP (intravenous pyelogram) and PET (positron emission tomography)
All these tests together will help in the confirmation and staging of the disease. This will determine the best treatment for the patient.
Treatment of Cervical Cancer
Treatment is determined by the stage of the disease. It involves surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapies. Usually the treatment involves a combination of these methods. Common drugs used include Cisplatin, Carboplatin and Topotecan.
The U.S Cervical Cancer Statistics
Almost 13 000 new invasive cervical cancers will be diagnosed in 2015.
About 4000 will die of cervical cancer and/or its complications.
Many more women are diagnosed with pre-cancerous cervical states than those with invasive cancer.
In a descending order, Hispanic women, African-Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders and White women are more likely to get Cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is among the few cancers that have a good prognosis if spotted early.