Cervical cancer cases, commonly seen in women, are increasing at an alarming rate in the country. But, timely screening can help prevent cervical cancer as it can spot abnormal changes in the cervix, allowing a woman can get prompt treatment, said experts.
Every year, January is observed as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month to highlight the condition and raise awareness about the need to get screening tests done regularly.
Here’s all you need to know.
“Cervical cancer starts from the cervix of a woman, which is the lower end of the womb (uterus). Human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, is the main cause of this cancer,” said Dr Sheetal Agarwal Gynaecologist, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Delhi. She shared that some common symptoms include pelvic pain after intercourse, and abnormal vaginal discharge.
Other risk factors for this type of cancer are having sex at an early age, that may raise the chances of one suffering from HPV infection; smoking; or having chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, HIV and Aids, age, a weak immune system, multiple partners and unmonitored use of birth control pills.
“Screening is widely done to look for precancerous changes or early cancers before signs or symptoms begin to appear. Since there is still a lack of awareness regarding cervical cancer, women do not speak out in open due to fear. But, they should be encouraged to go for a regular screening right from the age of 21-65, after every three years,” said Dr Agarwal.
Pap test: Also known as a Pap smear, this test is done to spot early changes in cells that can turn cancerous. Here, a sample of cells from the cervix is taken for checking. A Pap test is also combined with an HPV test.
HPV test: A sample of cells is removed from the cervix, and is examined for the strains of HPV most commonly linked to cervical cancer. One can do an HPV test alone, or even combine it with a Pap test.
There are vaccines against cervical cancer, which are both bivalent and quadrivalent to give protection not only against cervical cancer but also genital warts. It’s a course of three doses given over a period of six months from the age of 9 to 45 years
“You need to speak to your doctor regarding cervical cancer screening and follow a proper schedule. Do not neglect your health, and miss your screening routine as doing so can be fatal for you. Be vigilant about your health,” said Dr Agarwal.