What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is cancer of the cervix or cancer of the entrance to the uterus (womb). It can also be defined as a type of cancer that happens in the cells of the cervix. Cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
What causes cervical cancer and how you get the disease?
Cervical cancer affects mostly women over the age of 30. It is believed that cervical cancer is caused by a virus called human papillomavirus or HPV. The disease can be contracted through sexual contact with someone who has it.
While there are different types of the HPV virus, not all types of HPV cause cervical cancer. Some of them cause genital warts, but other types may not show any symptoms.
About 132,000 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in India yearly
Gravely, the disease kills more women in India than any other countries in the world. Cervical cancer affects approximately 132,000 Indian women annually, of which an astounding 72,000 die, according to the Cervical Cancer-Free Coalition.
Signs and symptoms of cervical cancer may include - vaginal bleeding during sex, pelvic pain or pain during intercourse, change in menstrual cycle, bleeding in-between periods, post-menopausal bleeding, vaginal discharge tinged with blood that may have a foul odour.
Treating cervical cancer is more likely to be successful if detected in its earliest stages. The American Cancer Society advises that all women should begin cervical cancer screening at age 21. It recommends that women aged 21 to 29, should have a Pap test every three years. Women who are age 30 or older should have a Pap test combined with an HPV test every five years till age 65 or just a Pap test every three years.
According to the Society, though the Pap smear is not foolproof in screening, it has been “more successful than any other test in preventing a cancer”. The Pap smear is available in several laboratories in Indian cities nowadays.
Treatment differs depending on stage of cancer and other health problems you may have. Treatment choices may include:
Surgery- Surgery is performed to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) in the early stages of cervical cancer.
A simple hysterectomy is a surgical process to remove the cervix and the uterus.
A radical hysterectomy involves surgical removal of the cervix, uterus, part of the vagina and lymph nodes in the area.
If you have a hysterectomy, you won’t become pregnant. But, hysterectomy isn’t always needed if cancer is detected very early.
Radiation- In this therapy, high dose of X-rays is used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours. It is a standard treatment for many types of cancer and may be used in combination with surgery, chemotherapy, or hormonal therapy.
Chemotherapy- It is the use of drugs/medicine to kill cancer cells. Certain chemotherapy drugs may lead to infertility as well as cause early menopause in premenopausal women.
You can reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer by following the tips below:
1. Have regular Pap test screening
2. Get HPV vaccine
3. Do not smoke or if you do then quit smoking
4. Avoid having multiple sexual partners
5. Use condoms
6. Avoid all intimate sexual contact with anyone who has symptoms of STIs (sexually transmitted infections).