Cervical cancer: Awareness is important

Cervical cancer: Awareness is important


Cervical cancer: Awareness is important

The cervix is part of a woman’s reproductive system, connecting the uterus to the vagina. The cervix is the lower, narrow part of the uterus (womb).

Cervical cancer essentially refers to growth in the cervix. It is the most prevalent form of cancer amongst women in India but awareness about it is little or none.

In India, every year, 1,32,082 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer; accounting for 26.7 per cent of worldwide incidence and 72,825 Indian women die due to cervical cancer, which is close to 200 women every day.

Cervical cancer can affect women of all socio-economic strata, both in rural and urban areas. All sexually active women are at risk of having cervical cancer. Cervical cancer usually grows slowly over many years. Before true cancer cells develop, the tissues of the cervix undergo changes — this is called dysplasia, or precancers — that a pathologist can detect in a pap smear.

These changes range from a mild dysplasia from moderate to high-grade lesions. They can also resemble cancer cells without invasion, also known as carcinoma in situ.  If left untreated, these precancerous cells have the propensity to invade and become cancerous.

Unlike the other cancers, cervical cancer is caused by a virus, the Human Papilloma Virus or the HPV.  When HPV infection persists for a longer period of time, it can cause cervical cancer. Other related diseases caused by HPV infection are genital warts, cancers of the vulva and vagina in women.

Cervical cancer, especially in its earliest stages, often displays no symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to see a doctor for regular screening with a pap test.

When symptoms do occur, they may include the following:

*Pain or bleeding during or after intercourse
*Unusual discharge from the vagina
*Blood spots or light bleeding other than a normal period

These symptoms can be caused by cervical cancer or by a number of serious conditions, and should be evaluated promptly by a medical professional.

Cervical cancer can be prevented by regular screening and vaccination. A majority of cervical cancer cases can be detected by screening. Regular screening with pap smears/HPV DNA, etc. can help detect it within the early stages.

Vaccines that control
Eighteen strains of infections can now be controlled through vaccination that has the potential to reduce the incidence of cervical and other anogenital cancers.

The development of vaccines for prevention of cervical cancer holds tremendous promise for developing countries like India where cervical cancer ranks as the  most common form of cancer among women in India, and the most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age.

Vaccination is given in three doses over a period of six months. For the best form of protection, it is very important to get all the three doses of the vaccination as per schedule. Regular screening should be continued after vaccination to offer the best possible protection against cervical cancer

IAP (Indian Academy of Pediatrics) and FOGSI- (Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology Society of India) recommends regular screening along with HPV vaccination.

Timely and regular screening and vaccination can help women fight this disease which is the biggest cause of cancer-related deaths amongst Indian women.

(The writer is an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Dr Gupta’s Nursing Home)