You may shy away from discussing anything related to sexual practices and menstrual hygiene due to personal and social inhibitions. This is one of the reasons why it is quite a task to educate people, especially women, about cervical cancer.
Being one of the most easily preventable as well as curable cancers, creating awareness about the disease has become the need of the hour.
This article sheds light on cervical cancer, its causes, early detection, and prevention.
What is cervical cancer? Who is prone to it?
It’s an uncontrolled, unwanted growth of cervical cells. Cervix is the narrow lower part of the uterus. It connects the uterus with the vagina.
In this type of cancer, the cells in the cervix start undergoing certain changes or mutations causing them to grow and multiply at an abnormal rate.
Usually, women in the age group of 30 to 50 are most prone to this disorder.
Fact: In India, cervical cancer contributes to approximately 6 to 29% of all cancers in women.
What are its symptoms?
Dyspareunia (bleeding post sexual intercourse).
Abnormal vaginal bleeding (bleeding in between menses or after menopause).
Excessive white discharge.
- A tingling sensation while urinating.
Pain in the legs. During the early stage of cancer, the cervix is usually swollen and can obstruct normal blood flow, leading to swelling and pain in the legs.
Urinary problems. If cervical cancer is diagnosed through a urine test, it indicates the spread of abnormal tissues from the cervix to the bladder and can affect its functioning.
It is important to know that urinary problems are not always a sign of urinary infections, so it is best to visit a specialist to detect the exact cause.
Cervical cancer often presents no symptoms in its early stages, which is why it is often referred to as a "silent killer.” But as the disease progresses, the warning signs and symptoms may present themselves.
What causes cervical cancer?
The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been identified as the major contributing factor to cervical cancer. Some genital strains of HPV that are often transmitted through sexual contact can lead to cervical cancer.
Sexual intercourse at an early stage of life.
Having multiple sexual partners.
A history of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
First pregnancy at an early age.
Four or more pregnancies.
Poor menstrual hygiene.
Prolonged use of oral contraceptive pills (OCPs).
Smoking weakens your immune system, thereby reducing your chances of effectively fighting HPV. Carcinogens from smoking may potentiate the multiplication of the virus, especially with the strains of HPV that pose the greatest risk of causing cancer.
Fact: HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 82% of cervical cancers in India.
How is cervical cancer detected?
Screening tests for cervical cancer include:
Pap smear. It is a screening test in which a small brush or a spatula is used to gently remove cells from the cervix. These cells are then examined under a microscope to detect any abnormalities.
HPV test. Here the cells of the cervix are tested for the presence of human papillomavirus that can increase the risk of cervical cancer.
If your doctor suspects cervical cancer they will perform a cervical examination and may also collect a sample of the cervical cells (biopsy) for laboratory testing.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed the treatment would be planned and it will depend upon the stage of cancer, your health condition and preferences.
How to prevent cervical cancer?
Do regular Pap tests. You can start getting Pap smears done once you turn 21 or 2 years after your first sexual intercourse.
Avail vaccination. The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to take the HPV vaccine. The vaccination is recommended for all sexually active adults. It can be taken up to the age of 45. The best time to get vaccinated is between the age of 9 to 13 years.
Maintain personal hygiene. Make sure to maintain proper personal and menstrual hygiene at all times.
Use protection. If you are sexually active, condoms are a must, every time you indulge in sexual intercourse. Incorporating such safe practices can lower your chances of getting HPV.
Quit smoking. According to studies, women who were exposed to three or more hours of smoke a day had about three times the risk of cervical cancer, and current smokers were found to have 3.4 times the risk of cervical cancer.
Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and strengthen your immune system.
These measures can effectively help prevent or reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. Regular check-ups with your gynaecologist will help in detecting early signs of cervical cancer and the condition can be treated early before it progresses.
Disclaimer: This article is written by the Practitioner for informational and educational purposes only. The content presented on this page should not be considered as a substitute for medical expertise. Please "DO NOT SELF-MEDICATE" and seek professional help regarding any health conditions or concerns. Practo will not be responsible for any act or omission arising from the interpretation of the content present on this page.