Even in this 21st century, we see that most women in India hesitate to seek medical advice freely. We know women who are not comfortable discussing their health issues with their husbands or sons. There are women who unaware of what is wrong and there are women who in spite of knowing that something is not right with their health who prefer to suffer silently than to put their dear ones in trouble. This article is for those women out there who have always been putting their health as their last priority and is also for the others who want to take care of the women in their lives.
People have to know that cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Cervix is the lowest part of the uterus attached to the vagina. Though death due to cervical cancer has significantly dropped in the developed countries, it remains high in India even now. The main reason for this being, the lack of awareness among Indian women about it.
One of the important causes of cervical cancer is a persistent infection by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Infection of Human Papilloma Virus is the most common sexually transmitted virus. But infection does not always result in cancer because most of the time, the body’s defense system manages to completely clear the virus. When this fails, it results in persistent HPV infection which may lead to malignant changes.
Women have to be aware of the symptoms which should alert them about this condition. A woman should consult a gynaeconcologist at the earliest then she notes any of the following symptoms.
- Bleeding through the vagina after attaining menopause (even bleeding after a gap of 6 months in perimenopausal age has to be evaluated).
- Any blood-stained or watery discharge per vaginum with an offensive smell.
- Any amount of bleeding after having sexual intercourse.
- Excessive bleeding during periods or in between periods.
Mortality due to cervical cancers has markedly decreased in the western world because the women there are enrolled in the cervical cancer screening program and every 3 to 5 years they get a screening test done. The screening test is a simple, painless, quick test that can be done in the outdoor room, during which the cells on the outer part of the cervix are collected with a wooden spatula and a tiny brush. The sample can be used to check if there are any cancer changes and can also be used to check the presence of HPV DNA. Based on the result, the woman will either be re-assured as low risk and will be advised to continue the 3 yearly test, or called for frequent testing due to high risk or will be advised colposcopy or biopsy. Women in India should be aware that though the screening tests are available in India, not many women get it done regularly.
The treatment of cervical cancer differs according to the stage of cancer. It is very important to pick up cancer at the early stages which can almost be completely cured, unlike advanced stages. That is why, women should be encouraged to consult the doctor as soon as she notes any of the symptoms. The regular screening test can pick up early cancer even before the symptoms appear.
Surgery is a good option for early stages which helps to almost completely remove the cancer tissues from the body. Advanced cancer is managed with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. For young patients with early cancer, fertility-preserving surgery options are available these days.
Now, there are vaccines against the Human Papilloma Virus which need to be given before the girl becomes sexually active, ideally between 11 to 26 years of age. It is safe and is found to decrease the incidence of cervical cancer. But it is advised that every woman should undergo regular screening irrespective of whether she is vaccinated or not.
To conclude, it is vital to help our women, make them aware and wake them up so that they learn to put their health as a priority too.