New Delhi: Globally, more than a quarter of a million women die due to cancer every year. And cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that affect large groups of women worldwide. In India, it is the second most common cancer among women, accounting for a quarter of deaths among women suffering from cancer. Although cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, it is said that nearly 200 women in India are succumbing to the disease each day. According to the National Health Portal of India, nearly 436 million women aged 15 years and above are at risk of developing cervical cancer. On the occasion of World Health Day, which is marked on April 7 each year, Dr. Sabhyata Gupta, Director Gynaecology, and Gynae Oncology, Medanta – The Medicity, stressed on the awareness about cervical cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, and prevention.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman’s cervix – the entrance to the womb. It is caused by a sexually transmitted virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). Once a woman becomes sexually active persistent infection can lead on to precancerous changes which in turn can turn fatal if left undetected and untreated. However, the social stigma around women’s sexual and reproductive health issues acts as a barrier to timely intervention. Moreover, the condition often doesn’t have symptoms in its early stages, hence, being aware of the disease and its possible signs, causes and taking precautions, such as getting screened for cancer can help prevent or reduce your risk of developing the disease.
A common symptom of cervical cancer can be irregular or abnormal bleeding which can happen during menstruation or after sexual intercourse. At times patients may not have any symptoms. Women are mostly uncomfortable discussing this and misinterpret it as spotting or normal menstrual variation which causes further complications. Usually, warning signs of cervical cancer include –
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding between menstrual cycles
- Bleeding after the cessation of menstruation
- Vaginal discharge which is bloodstained
Cervical cancer has distressing repercussions. When symptoms appear and women seek medical intervention, it’s often too late. In such cases, cancer advances and becomes incurable.
- Risk factors for cervical cancer include –
- Early initiation of sexual activity
- Prolonged use of birth control pills
- Low socioeconomic status with poor access to health care services
- Pregnancy before 17 years of age
- Full-term 3 or more Pregnancies
- Immuno-compromised status
The two preventive measures are primary prevention by vaccination and secondary prevention via early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions. Cervical cancer can be prevented through various screening tests like PAP smear, VIA and HPV testing etc. Procedures done to treat pre-cancerous lesions are also simple like cryo-cauterization, cold coagulation and loop exercises.
HPV vaccine has been introduced as a precautionary measure and is administered between nine to twenty-five years of age. Women, twenty years and above, should get themselves screened regularly once in every three years with PAP smear or after 30 years of age with HPV testing and Pap smear once in 5 years. Comprehensive disease control via proactive screening and HPV vaccination is the best way to prevent cervical cancer and reduce overall disease burden.
Modifications in lifestyle can also help in preventing cervical cancer. Women are advised to follow a healthy diet, avoid tobacco consumption and exercise regularly to minimise their risk.
Cervical cancer education should start as soon as girls attain puberty. Parents, friends, family and education institutes can also play a vital role in spreading awareness and early education.