`Cervical cancer is gaining epidemic proportions in India`

Last Updated: Apr 08, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

The disease that killed British television celebrity Jade Goody, whose tragic exit from the reality show Big Boss affected us all, is one of the most fatal cancers that affect women worldwide. She died of cervical cancer, the cancer of the mouth of the uterus called cervix.

All women aged 15 and above stand the risk of developing this disease. A World Health Organisation study reveals that every year 132,082 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 74,118 die of the disease. The growing risk of cervical cancer in women in India (aged 0-64 years) is 2.4% compared to 1.3% for the world.

Dr Sunita Gupta, MBBS and MD from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, currently working as senior consultant, Gynecology and Obstetrics at Delhi’s Fortis Hospital in an exclusive interview with Smita Mishra of Zeenews.Com, talks about the causes, symptoms and other facts associated with the disease.

What are the causes of cervical cancer?

The Human Papilloma virus infection (HPV) (types 16, 18 and 33) is the cause of cervical cancer. Sexual activity has been correlated with the disease, especially age at first intercourse and number of sexual partners.

Women of which age group are at the highest risk?

The age group that is most affected by this disease is 40 to 55 years.

What are the symptoms of the disease?

In early stages, the disease may not cause any symptoms and is detected by pap-smear. The most common signs are bleeding after intercourse, vaginal discharge, post- menopausal bleeding and irregular vaginal bleeding. In advanced stages, loss of appetite, weight loss, fatigue, pelvic pain, back pain and leg pain may occur.

What percentage of Indian women are affected by it and how many of them actually get treatment?

In India, it is the commonest cancer in women. There are one lakh new cases every year. 70% of the women are stage three or higher at the time of diagnosis.

How is the disease detected?

Early stage can be detected by pap-smear, HPV testing, liquid based cytology and colposcopy. Advanced stages can be detected by a simple gynaecological check-up.

Can lifestyle changes ward off the disease?

Yes definitely, awareness about the disease and regular screening are important for prevention. HPV vaccine before sexual debut can prevent this cancer. In addition regular pap-smear can also help in early detection and cure.

Lifestyle changes can also guard one against HPV infection. Higher levels of fruit and vegetable consumption are associated with a decrease in risk of HPV persistence. Consumption of papaya at least once a week protects against HPV infection.

Smoking doubles the chance of cervical cancer and can be avoided.

Also sexually transmitted infections like HIV and chlymydia infection which increase the risk of cancer can be prevented by the use of condoms. Single partner also reduces the risk of cervical cancer.

Is there a cure for it?

Cone biopsy/Hysterectomy can cure the cancer if it is detected in the early stage.

Is it more deadly than breast cancer?

Current estimates indicate that every year 132,082 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 74,118 die from the disease, whereas 80,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year in India. Cervical cancer therefore ranks as the most frequent cancer among women in India, followed by breast cancer. The crude incidence rates per 100,000 of the population are 26.2 for cervical cancer and 19.1 for breast cancer, which naturally shows it is more deadly.

Besides, it is easy to detect breast cancer due to presence of visible lump. But this is not so with cervical cancer whose symptoms do not show up unless the disease reaches a very advanced stage.