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Cervical cancer is a largely preventable disease but it is one of the leading causes of cancer death in women, worldwide. In India, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in females, followed by breast cancer. Cervical cancer mostly affects middle- aged women (between 40 and 55 years). It occurs when the cells in the cervix (the organ connecting the uterus and vagina) begin to grow and replicate in an abnormal and uncontrolled way and is caused due to Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Although the statistics are frightening but cervical cancer can be prevented, and treated if caught early.
- An estimated over one million women worldwide are currently living with cervical cancer.
- According to the latest reports, approximately 1, 32,000 new cases are diagnosed annually in India.
Are you at risk?
Find out the risk factors which can increase your chances of developing cervical cancer:
- HPV infection
- More number of full- term pregnancies
- Using oral contraceptives for a long time
- History of sexually transmitted disease
- Multiple sexual partners
Go for an immediate diagnosis if you notice these symptoms:
Symptoms of cervical cancer tend to appear only after cancer has reached an advanced stage.
- Irregular, intermenstrual (between periods), post-menopausal or abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Back, leg or pelvic pain
- Fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite
- Abnormal vaginal odour discharge
- A single swollen leg
- Pain during sexual intercourse or urination
What tests should you take?
If you suffer from any of the symptoms, immediately consult a doctor who will advise you to take any or all of these tests:
- Pap test
- HPV infection test
- Cervical exam using a colposcope
Even when you do not observe any symptoms, go for a regular screening once in 10 years if you are aged between 30 to 49 years. If abnormal cervical cell changes are found early, cancer can be prevented by removing or killing the changed cells before they become cancerous. Conventional Pap and HPV testing are common cancer screening procedures.
Risk Reduction and Prevention
Indian women face a 2.5% cumulative lifetime risk and 1.4% cumulative death risk from cervical cancer. It is important to follow these steps to prevent the occurrence of cancer as well as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
- Get the routine screening done if you are aged between 30 to 49 years
- Restrict the number of sex partners and use condoms as HPV is transmitted sexually.
- Avoid or reduce heavy smoking.
- Spread awareness among young boys and girls about safe sexual practices.
- Get yourself vaccinated as it is the best way to prevent cervical cancer.
Why is HPV Vaccination important?
Almost 75% of all sexually active adults are likely to be infected with at least one HPV type. HPV is a necessary cause of cervical cancer. Although, only a minority (<1%) of the HPV infections progress to cancer, vaccination is a necessary step to prevent HPV infection.
The following points will explain the importance of getting vaccinated:
- Condoms do not guarantee a 100% protection against viral infection.
- Most of the time HPV infection and the initial stage of cervical cancer are asymptomatic.
- Sometimes, regular screening is difficult to achieve.
- There are more than 100 types of HPV strains and 13 are cancer causing. The vaccine can prevent infections from HPV types not yet acquired.
Did you know?
Vaccination is the best step to prevent all types of HPV infection, thereby reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
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- World Health Organization. Accessed Sep 27, 2016.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed Sep 28, 2016.
- HPV Vaccine. Accessed Sep 28, 2016.