We generally shy away from discussing anything related to sexual practices and menstrual hygiene due to our personal and social inhibitions. As these issues are considered as tabooed in developing countries like India, it is quite a task to educate people, especially women about cervical cancer which results mainly from undesirable sexual habits and poor menstrual hygiene. Being one of the 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 a narrow lower part of the uterus or womb. It connects the uterus with vagina. In this type of cancer the cells on the cervical surface start changing gradually from normal to abnormal and sometimes these changes disappear without any treatment. Usually, women in the age group of 30 to 50 are most prone to this disorder.

What are cervical cancer symptoms and signs?

  • Bleeding post sexual intercourse

  • Bleeding in between menses or after menopause

  • Excessive white discharge

Other early signs to detect cervical cancer include:

  • Pain in the legs - During the early stage of the cancer development, a number of women suffer from swelling and leg pain. After the first stage, the cervix is swollen and can obstruct normal blood flow, leading to swelling and pain in the legs.
  • Urinary problems - A urine test can help you find if you have cancer of the cervix. If the cancer is diagnosed in this way, it means that the tumor is already at stage 4 and also that the abnormal tissue has spread to the bladder and affects its function. A very common symptom in women suffering from cervical cancer is tingling when urinating. It is important to know that urinary problems are not always a sign of urinary infection, so it is best to visit a specialist.

What causes cervical cancer?

  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) has been identified as the major contributing factor to cervical cancer. It might get transmitted sexually.

  • Early age at the time of the first sexual intercourse

  • Multiple sexual partners

  • History of sexually transmitted diseases

  • First pregnancy at an early age

  • Four or more pregnancies

  • Poor menstrual and genital hygiene

How can it be detected?

Pap smear and HPV tests are an easy way to detect abnormal cells in the cervix. Every woman should take a Pap smear test once in two years.

Pap smear and HPV test is done in a hospital usually through a pelvic examination. The woman is told to lie down on the bed with legs apart and a instrument called speculum is inserted so that the upper portion of the vagina and cervix can be seen. From here, samples of cervical cells are taken and tested in the laboratory under a microscope.

How to prevent cervical cancer?

The best way to prevent cervical cancer is to have the HPV vaccine at the age of 12 or 13. The vaccine can be taken upto the age of 35. Women should have a regular Pap tests done once they turn 21 or 2 years after the first sexual intercourse. Moreover, they should maintain better vaginal and menstrual hygiene.

With early detection and prevention techniques at their disposal, protecting themselves against cervical cancer is pretty much in women’s hands. So ladies, make the best use of available practices and facilities and safeguard yourself and every important woman in your life.