The surprising fact is that the leading cancer in developing countries like India is not breast cancer, although it is the leading cancer in women worldwide, most of the cancer related deaths among women in India is due to cervical cancer.
The current estimates indicate approximately 132,000 new cases diagnosed and 74,000 deaths annually in India, accounting to nearly 1/3rd of the global cervical cancer deaths. Unlike many other cancers, cervical cancer occurs early and strikes at the productive period of a woman’s life. The incidence rises with 30–34 years of age and peaks at 55–65 years. According to IARC estimates, mortality from cervical cancer is expected to witness a 79% increase from 74,118 deaths in 2002 to 132,745 deaths by 2025.
What you need to know:
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. Cervical cancer is caused by severe abnormal changes in the cells of the cervix. Infection with some types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the greatest risk factor for cervical cancer, followed by smoking.
HPV infections are the most common among STDs, there are several types of this virus that can cause an infection and most adults have probably been infected with HPV at some time. An infection may go away on its own but sometimes it can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer. The high risk types HPV-16 and 18 are the ones known to cause cervical cancer.
HPV is a necessary cause of cervical cancer, but it is not a sufficient cause. Other cofactors are necessary for progression from cervical HPV infection to cancer. Long-term use of hormonal contraceptives, many children, early initiation of sexual activity, multiple sex partners, tobacco smoking and co-infection with HIV have been identified as established cofactors.
The early stages of cervical cancer maybe completely free of symptoms and may go undetected. Abnormal vaginal bleeding (especially after menopause), painful sex, abnormal vaginal discharge and unexplained changes in menstrual cycle can raise concerns about cervical cancer.
How to screen for cervical cancer?
All sexually active women must take a routine screening test called the Pap test on a regular basis to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous changes in the cervix; this plays a key role in the early detection and successful treatment of cervical cancer. The Pap test is done by collecting the cells lining the cervix by mildly scraping it using a spatula. These cells are then examined under a microscope for any abnormal changes.
Prevention with the cervical cancer vaccine
In recent times, a vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer has been developed and is showing promising results, the vaccine being most effective when taken at the age of 15-25. The vaccine has not been implemented on a population level due to its high cost and need for optimization, but it is available for individual use. The vaccine helps prevent a HPV infection but will not work for an already infected person. Research has shown that vaccination can go a long way in preventing and protecting a woman from cervical cancer and may help in bringing down the numbers overall.
Doctor by profession, ardent animal lover by choice; she finds writing to be therapeutic. She loves meeting new people, hopes to travel the world and has karaoking with Oprah on top of her bucket list. @kirtana_ponnuswamy