Dr Rama Joshi, Director and Head of Department (HOD), Gynaecology Oncology and Robotic Surgery, at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, says that close to one lakh women are detected with cervical cancer each year. Of this number, more than 50 per cent, that is 54,000 women succumb to cancer. Dr Joshi says that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer that presents itself in women.
“One of the youngest patients I have treated with cervical cancer was all of 20 and she came with excessive bleeding post sexual contact. Upon examination, I found that the cancer was already in stage one and a radical hysterectomy (a process to remove the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and nearby lymph nodes) surgery had to be performed,” shares Dr Joshi.
Adding an important point here, Dr Joshi says, “In very young girls, we can preserve their fertility by opting for a radical trachelectomy instead of radical hysterectomy. This can be done for a selected few patients where the lesion is very small. This is new in the management of cervical cancer.”
To understand this further, we need to lay down what cancer is. Dr Joshi says, “Uncontrolled growth of the cells that have the potential to spread to the other parts of the body can be defined as cancer. When this cancer originates in the cervix, the mouth of the uterus, it is referred to as cervical cancer.”
Things to know
- Cervical cancer is both preventable and treatable.
- Most cases are caused by certain strains of human papilloma-oncogenic virus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus.
- However, there are other causes and factors which increase the risk of developing cervical cancer and those include, early onset of sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, smoking, and those who are on immunosuppressant drugs.
- The usual age group of women who present symptoms of cervical cancer is between 30 to 55 years of age.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Dr Joshi says that symptoms for cervical cancer may not present itself in the early stages because of its slow growing nature. Once the cancer begins to spread, some of the symptoms that one may experience may include:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or following a pelvic examination
- Vaginal bleeding post menopause
- Increased vaginal discharge that may be blood stained
- Unexplained, persistent pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse.
What every girl ought to know
Dr Joshi mentions how teaching girls about these diseases and ways to stay safe and prevent it is very important. “Cervical cancer is very much related to that of the sexual activity. Therefore, proper knowledge about it is important,” she says.
The HPV vaccine is available for girls above the age of nine years and Dr Joshi says it should ideally be given to girls at the age of 11, before the onset of any sexual activity or sexual exposure. “This vaccine provides almost 80 per cent protection against cervical cancer and if it can be given to girls under the age of 15, then they can be given two doses of the vaccine,” adds Dr Joshi.
While the vaccine is also administered to women above the age of 25, the efficacy of it might not be the same as someone younger taking it, adds Dr Joshi. “The best protection is expected out of the HPV vaccine before sexual activity or exposure and is recommended upto the age of 27 years,” says Dr Joshi.
Dr Joshi advises girls to undergo a screening test two years after becoming sexually active and thereafter on the recommendation of their doctor. “This will be dependent on the risk factors that you are exposed to. This is a secondary method and the vaccine is what offers the maximum protection against cervical cancer,” she says.
In conclusion Dr Joshi says, “It is important to remember that cervical cancer is preventable — primary prevention by vaccination and secondary prevention by regular screening. Do not let any symptom linger on, consult your doctor immediately for proper management of the disease.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)