A lot of stress has been put by several fields in research and promotion on preventing cervical cancer. Many women are still not aware of how cervical cancer is caused, its treatment, protecting themselves from HPV and getting vaccinated against it. With the right knowledge, cervical cancer is preventable as well as treatable, especially if diagnosed at an early stage. In fact, it is one of the top two common cancers among women & yet there is a lack of awareness on the prevention and vaccine at the right time. In India, cervical cancer contributes to approximately 6–29% of all cancers in women. To talk about the same, we are joined by Dr. Sangeeta Gomes, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood hospital Sarjapur, Bangalore.
Talking About Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer affects the cells of the cervix or the lower end of the uterus. It is detected by the presence of abnormal cells, as detected in a Pap smear or Pap test (a screening test for cervical cancer). Women are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, which is caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Both men and women can contract the virus after having sexual intercourse with an infected partner. It can even be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas.
Symptoms Of Cervical Cancer
- Pelvic pain
- Pain after sex
- Vaginal bleeding after sex (before/or after menopause)
- Bloody or watery vaginal discharge (with a foul smell)
If cancer spreads, one may have trouble urinating, weight loss, loss of appetite, swollen legs and suffer from bone pain and kidney failure.
There are many risk factors for cervical cancer like having multiple partners which increase the chances of contracting HPV and weak immune system due to an underlying health condition. If your mother was exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth, you stand at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Involving in early sexual activities and smoking are also linked to cervical cancer.
Preventing HPV And Cervical Cancer
Invasive cervical cancer can be prevented by regular screening tests. If the pre-cancerous cells are identified at an early stage, proper treatment can prevent the development of cancer. Therefore, if you are sexually active, you should get a Pap smear done. If the pap smear is normal for consecutive 3 years, one can go for a pap smear test yearly once for the first 5 years. If the pap smear is normal for the next 5 years, then consecutively one can go for 3-4 years. Also, women between 30-65 years of age should get tested for cervical cancer and HPV every 5 years. The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of cervical cancer by 90%.
HPV can also cause several other types of cancers like anal, oral, throat, along with genital warts. You can protect yourself from these illnesses by receiving the HPV vaccine. Getting vaccinated reduces your chances of getting infected with the virus. Both boys and girls who are not yet sexually active must receive the vaccine for better results. This is because the immune response among children is stronger than the adults. You can consult your doctors for scheduling vaccinations. Older women can also receive the vaccine. Even if you have already been exposed to the virus, you should still receive the vaccination as it can protect you from other strains of HPV. The HPV vaccine is effective and can provide you with long-lasting protection against several types of cancers and other health issues.
You can also prevent cervical cancer by using condoms during sexual intercourse. Even if you are vaccinated, you should still practise safe sex and avoid having sex with multiple partners.
Talk To Your Children About The HPV Vaccine
Indulge in a conversation with your pre-teen regarding the HPV vaccine. If the age of your daughter is between 9-14 years, they can get vaccinated in two doses. The vaccine is also recommended for adults aged 25 years or below. People aged above 26 years can talk to their doctors regarding the vaccine as many of them might have already been exposed to the virus. Screening for cervical cancer is important, even if you have received the vaccination.
Spreading awareness about cervical cancer has become a major concern, especially in India, where a large population of women is affected by this deadly disease. We must promote the right knowledge and educate more and more people regarding the HPV vaccine.