“Cervical cancer is the second most common malignancy in Indian women after breast cancer,” says Dr Vidushi Sawhney, Associate Consultant, Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI), Gurgaon.
According to this report, one out of every five women in the world who have cervical cancer is an Indian. Besides the high incidence, owing to its late diagnosis and with consequent poor survival, 25 per cent of the global mortality due to cervical cancer occurs in the country.
In this article, Dr Vidushi provides information about the cancer of the uterine cervix, its symptoms, and why you should get regular pap-smears.
Cervical Cancer: What is it
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is the ‘Human Papillomavirus’ (HPV), which is one of the causative factors for cervical cancer, says Dr Vidushi.
Signs and Symptoms
When asked about the signs and symptoms one should watch out for, Dr Vidushi says, “While early-stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms, some of the symptoms of a more-advanced cervical cancer may include: vaginal bleeding after intercourse, bleeding in-between periods or after menopause, watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and has a foul odour, or pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.”
What is a pap smear?
It is essentially a test that checks precancerous changes in the cervix, and involves the scraping of the cells from the cervix. The sample collected is then sent to the lab to be reviewed under the microscope.
This test may also detect the risk of developing cervical cancer sometime in the future or detect any other relevant changes in the cells present in the cervix.
Dr Vidushi says, “The test is an important step in the early diagnosis of developing cancer. It is a quick, simple and painless screening test and is usually advised for every woman between the age range of 21 and 65 years. We also advise that women get the screening done once every three years.”
Who is at risk?
- Multiple sexual partners & Early sexual activity
With multiple sexual partners, the risk of contracting the HPV is greater. Having sexual relations from an early age also increases your risk of HPV. Having sexual intercourse before the age of 16 or within a year of starting your period are also factors that could put you at a higher risk.
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Having other STIs — such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS, increases your risk of HPV.
- A weakened immune system
Someone with a weakened immune system is also at risk of developing HPV.
- Prolonged intake of birth control pills
Usually, if one has been taking birth control pills for more than 5 years, then such a person could be at risk.
Note: While these points have been put together after consulting a doctor, we would still urge you to discuss your symptoms with your medical professional and seek help if the need arises.
How to keep yourself safe?
- HPV vaccine
While there are vaccinations available to protect oneself, do check with your medical professional if there is an appropriate one for you. Getting vaccinated to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers.
- Have routine Pap tests
Ensure that you get your pap smear done periodically. This will help in monitoring and detecting precancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be treated to prevent cervical cancer.
- Practice safe sex
Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex.
- Don’t smoke
Smoking has been known to be a cause of many different types of cancer. Therefore if you are a smoker, do discuss ways in which you could quit with your medical professional.
In conclusion, Dr Vidushi says, “The first step towards ensuring good health is to get periodic check-ups done. Like one makes time for everything else in life, these check-ups should also be put into your calendar to ensure that they are followed.”
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)