Potential Solutions For Cervical Cancer Biology Essay

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Cervical cancer is quite hard to diagnose as the symptoms may not be obvious or only appear when the cancer has reached an advanced stage. The symptoms of cervical cancer are bleeding in between periods, unusual discharge or discomfort/pain during sex, known as dyspareunia. [6] As symptoms do not always appear or get recognised immediately, the cancer can spread and become more dangerous and even potentially fatal. This is why it is important to find cures for the disease or to have ways to prevent it.

Cancer starts when there is a change in the structure of the DNA. DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) is a set of instructions which controls everything the body does. When a mutation occurs, the instructions change. This change can result in cells growing and replicating uncontrollably until they eventually form a tumour. If left untreated the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. The risk factors that increase your chance of developing cervical cancer are:

My main solution for cervical cancer is Chemotherapy. As the name suggests, chemotherapy involves treatment by using chemicals which are normally injected into the bloodstream. The chemicals are also called cytotoxics as they kill cells. [9] Chemotherapy is often given as a combination of drugs as it helps to boost the effect the drugs have and also helps to prevent the cancer cells becoming resistant to a specific drug. Some of the different drugs used in chemotherapy include:

Figure 3 - How an alkylating agent reacts with DNA, resulting in its fragmentation. [10]Alkylating agents - These react directly with the DNA, modifying the bases and subsequently result in mutations. (Figure 3) Alkylating agents damage the DNA in the cancer cells and if the damage is severe enough the cause to cells to undergo apoptosis (also known as cellular suicide.) [10] By doing this they can directly rid someone of cancer cells.

Anti-metabolites - "These are similar in structure to other molecules that cells use as part of their metabolism." [11] When a cell mistakes an anti-metabolite form the compound usually used they undergo apoptosis as the cell cannot process it and all processes taking place in the cell grind to a halt. They give the cells the incorrect information or prevent chemical reactions taking place that are needed for cell replication. [12]

Antibiotics - Interfere with cell division and can affect cancer cells during all parts of their cycle. [12]

Chemotherapy's main result is to cause cells to go through apoptosis. If the DNA within a cell gets damaged, or the cell can no longer function. However, chemotherapy is not cell-specific, so it will affect healthy cells as well as the cancerous ones. Secondary cancer can also develop as a result due to some types of chemotherapy being carcinogenic.

Social implications of chemotherapy - Chemotherapy can help to rid a person of cancer and potential save their life. By getting rid of the disease their quality of life improves, and they are able to return to living similar to or exactly how they were living before. However, there are also negative social implications for undergoing this treatment. Chemotherapy lowers the amount of white blood cells, which are necessary to help prevent infection from other illnesses. As a result your immune system will be weakened and you will become more susceptible to disease. Chemotherapy also lowers the number of red blood cells in a person. Red blood cells transport oxygen around the body. If you have too few blood cells your body will become deprived of oxygen which could result in the development of anaemia. If a person has anaemia they generally feel fatigued and short of breath. There have also been cases where undergoing chemotherapy has been fatal.

Economical implications of chemotherapy - The cost of chemotherapy can amount to quite a lot if it needs to be repeated and follow-up drugs need to be taken and could have a negative effect on the NHS and/or the patient financially. However the treatment could result in the patient being well enough to go back to work meaning they'll be earning money and paying taxes which has a positive effect on the patient, the government and subsequently the NHS.

Alternative solution #1 - Radiotherapy

Figure 4 - Diagram showing the position of the applicators for internal radiotherapy for cervical cancer. [13]An alternative solution to chemotherapy is radiotherapy. Radiotherapy can be performed externally (external beam radiotherapy) or internally (brachytherapy). [9] Radiotherapy targets the cancer cells with high energy waves (radiation) which shrinks the tumour. Radiotherapy can also be used alongside other treatments, such as chemotherapy. [12] External radiotherapy directs beams into your body through a radiotherapy machine. The treatment lasts a few minutes and is completely painless. Internal radiotherapy is often preferred as it can directly attack the cancer cells residing in the cervix. An applicator is inserted into the vagina until it reaches the cervix and the lower part of the womb. (Figure 4) A high dosage of radiation is emitted. Most radiotherapy centres use a pulsed dose rate (PDR) which emits radiation for 10 minutes every hour. For this type of radiotherapy you will need to stay in hospital for a few days. [13] Like any other treatment, radiotherapy has some side effects. Short term side effects include diarrhoea, an irritable bladder, nausea and bleeding from the vagina (after internal radiotherapy). Radiotherapy often stops the ovaries producing sex hormones and the patient will often experience symptoms of the menopause. Young woman who develop cervical cancer may have to rethink having this treatment if they wish to start a family later on in life. Another long term symptom of radiotherapy is that some women may experience bowel or bladder problems. As many as 1 in 3 women have been reported to have experienced some bladder or bowel side effect as a result of high dose rate internal therapy. [14]Diagram showing the position of the applicators for internal radiotherapy for cervical cancer

Alternative solution #2 - HPV vaccine

Instead of treating the cancer once it has started to develop, the HPV vaccine helps to prevent a person from becoming infected by the virus. By preventing HPV infection the number of cervical cancer cases will significantly drop due to the face that 99% of cases are related to the virus. The vaccine is given to girls aged between 12 -13 and comes in 3 instalments over a six month period. The vaccine works by injecting an inactive, small dose of the HPV virus into the body. [15] The body will see the virus as a foreign entity and create antibodies to combat and destroy it. Some antibodies, and the 'instructions' on how to make more, will remain in the body. This means that if a person is actually exposed to HPV they will have the antibodies to fight and kill the virus. If a person is sexually active before they have the vaccine they could have already contracted HPV. If this is the case, the vaccine will not work, however they should still consider having it as the vaccine helps to prevent numerous different strains of the virus. As this is the case, the vaccine is not a practical solution as it would not benefit older people or people who've already been infected with HPV. It also does not completely eradicate the chance of getting cervical cancer, meaning that other cures will be needed. There are also numerous side effects from the vaccine including:

Headaches

Aching muscles

Fever

Nausea

Stomach pain

Diarrhoea

Rashes

Dizziness

Figure 5 - Antibodies, HPV and the virus-like particle. [16]

Evaluation of solutions

Chemotherapy - I chose this as my main solution to try and cure cervical cancer I

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