Since last year we have been talking about the Covid- 19 virus and the havoc that it has caused in the world that we live in today. The ongoing discussion around the virus has helped us bring a certain amount of awareness in the masses towards regular sanitization & wearing of masks in the public area which is helping reduce the incidence. We need to have a similar kind of approach when we talk about cervical cancer, which is cancer caused by a different virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
The severe impact of cervical cancer can be judged by the statistics from World Health Organization (WHO) which tell us that every minute a new case of cervical cancer is diagnosed in the world and a woman dies of this disease every eight minutes. In 2018 alone, close to 100,000 new cases were diagnosed in India and 60,000 women died from it. Today it causes the second highest cancer related deaths in Indian women. The median age of incidence of cervical cancer is 38 years, which is the most productive time for any woman & the occurrence of cervical cancer can quickly derail her life.
The best way to beat this disease is to better understand the cause and early symptoms & when is the right time to visit your oncologist.
Almost all the cervical cancers (more than 90%) are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) infection. Some of the other causes or risk factors of cervical cancer are:
- Early beginning of sexual activity (before the age of 18yrs)
- Multiple sexual partners
- Multiple pregnancies
- Poor genital hygiene
- Use of oral contraceptives for prolonged period (more than five years)
- Immunosuppression caused by diseases like AIDS
- Lack of awareness
Any of these can cause the disease where the cancer develops in the entrance of the woman’s womb. The biggest challenge with cervical cancer is that it does not show any symptoms (asymptomatic) specially in the early stages.
Regular visits to an oncologist for screening test can help catch these asymptomatic cases at an early stage & 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer can be prevented. The screening test recommended for early detection of the disease even before a lady develops symptoms is PAP Smear test. The PAP smear screening test is recommended once every three years for women between age 25-49 years & once every five years for women who are in the age range of 50-64 years. These days we recommend HPV test also and if it is combined with PAP smear, the frequency of test is once in five years.
Some of the symptoms which may show up & in which case one should immediately schedule a visit to your oncologists are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding (post-menopausal, inter-menstrual, post-coital bleeding)
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Loss of bladder control
- Pelvic pain
- Discomfort during urinating
- Unexplained weight loss
Sometimes a woman witnessing these symptoms may consider it as benign and choose to ignore. Also, in India there is a lot of shyness about the invasive nature of the screening test. These leads to a delayed diagnosis and poses a lot of challenge in the management of the disease. However, anyone with the above-mentioned symptoms need to visit their oncologist and get themselves screened.
The year 2020 had a lot of learning for us and one of it is to give your health priority. We have all seen the vulnerable position in which individuals with health conditions were due to the pandemic. In case of cervical cancer, regular screenings (PAP smear) along with being aware about the early signs & visiting your oncologist in time can make all the difference between a healthy life and the stress of a disease coupled with the scare of the pandemic. The decision is yours to make!