Cervical cancer is cancer originating from the neck of the womb (uterus). But how prevalent is cervical cancer in India? It is common cancer affecting women second only to breast cancer. It constitutes 16.5% of all cancer cases in Indian women. About 160 million women between the ages of 30 and 59 years are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Approximately 1,23,907 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in India every year with 77,348 deaths. Cervical cancer is most frequently diagnosed in women between the ages of 35 and 44 with the average age at diagnosis being 50. It rarely develops in women younger than 20.
What causes cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is caused in 99.9% of cases by a virus called Human Papillomavirus or HPV. It takes a long period of time, about 15-20 years to develop cervical cancer with the persistence of this virus. The risk increases with unprotected sexual intercourse with multiple partners, smoking, poor hygiene and infections like HIV.
How to reduce the risk of cervical cancer?
The good news is that it is totally preventable. The most important thing you can do to help prevent cervical cancer is to get vaccinated early and have regular screening tests. The HPV vaccine protects against the particular types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. It can be given from the age of 12 to 45 years. However, the earlier a woman gets vaccinated, the more the protection. From 15 years onwards, a three-dose schedule is recommended (0 dose, 2 months, 6 months). For children less than 15 years, a 2-dose schedule 6 months apart is recommended. This vaccine is proven to be safe.
Secondly, the Pap smear is a screening test and is performed every 3 years. It is a simple internal examination wherein the cervix is visualised and a small brush or wooden spatula is used to give a gentle scrape. This is then smeared on a glass slide for the pathologist to report. If normal, the smear may be repeated in 3 years. If any precancerous changes are seen, they can be acted upon according to the severity. Please schedule a pap smear if you have never had it done. One may have it from the age of 25 or 3 years following sexual debut to the age of 65 years.
The WHO has recommended a Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative in 2018. It states that by the year 2030, every country must have 90% of their girls fully vaccinated before age 15; 70% of women screening by age of 35; and 90% of women with pre-cancer must be treated and 90% of women with invasive cancer must be managed. These 90-70-90 targets will help eliminate cervical cancer within the next century.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
The good thing about cervical cancer is that screening tests exist. However, the symptoms of cervical cancer may occur late in the disease process. These are the possible symptoms associated:
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding after sex
- Bleeding following menopause
- Vaginal discharge which is blood stained and/or has odour
- Pelvic pain and low back pain
In conclusion, in this month for Cervical Cancer awareness, please consider the HPV vaccination for you and your daughters and schedule a pap smear as early as possible.
Article Written By: Lifestyle Desk