Of all cancers that affect women all over the world, cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent type and second most common cancer among Indian women. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the year 2018, there were 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported across the world. Let’s take a look into cervical cancer, its symptoms, causes, early signs, and risk factors.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina. It’s also called the birth canal. The lower part of the cervix, called ectocervix, lies within the vagina, whereas the remaining larger part lies above it. Most cervical cancers originate in the area where these two parts come in contact.
Cervical cancer appears with a wide range of symptoms. They include:
- Bleeding – when bleeding occurs between two periods, or after sexual intercourse or in post-menopausal women, it could be a case of cervical cancer.
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Blood-tinged vaginal discharge
Like many other types of cancers, cervix cancer may not show any signs at all in the early stages, making it difficult to diagnose the disease. However, opting to undergo regular cervical smear tests or Pap smear tests, one can diagnose cervical cancer early. Pap smear test helps to detect changes in cell growth. Since cell changes indicate the possibility of developing cancer, the test enables an individual to take adequate measures against cervical cancer.
Causes & Risk Factors:
It’s proven beyond doubt that the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) plays a significant role in it. There are many factors including lifestyle choices which will increase the chances of HPV infection. Some of them are:
- Multiple sexual partners: A person is at a higher risk of contracting cervical cancer depending on the number of partners she has and how many partners her partners have.
- Early sexual activity: Women with a history of early sexual activity are at a higher risk.
- A weakened immune system: Those with HIV or AIDS are prone to fall prey to cervical cancer owing to their weakened immune system. People who have undergone transplants are susceptible, particularly because of the use of immunosuppressive medication.
- Other STDs: Those with other sexually-transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis stand a higher chance of getting cancer of the cervix.
- Socio-economic status: Though the reason is yet to be established, an increased number of cervical cancer patients fall in the low-income group.
Like other types of cancers, cervical cancer can be treated with a wide range of options. But it all depends on what stage the disease is in.
If it’s in the very early stages, surgery is normally what the doctors opt for and in later stages, either radiation therapy or radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is suggested.
Unlike most cancers, cervical cancer is preventable. According to the World Health Organization, “almost all of the cervical cancer deaths could be avoided if known effective interventions were available to all women and implemented, including immunizing adolescent girls against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions.”
The most important preventive measure is vaccination against HPV. Others include periodical cervical screening and safe sexual practices.
With proper awareness programs, we can make cervical cancer a thing of the past.