New Delhi, February 4, 2021: Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Most cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection, that also cause genital warts.
About 25% of all global deaths due to cervical cancer occur in India and this form of cancer forms 16.5% of the total cancer cases in Indian women. It is estimated that about 160 million women between the ages of 30 and 59 years are at risk of developing cervical cancer in India, with 96,922 new cases registered in 2018 alone. The reason for this difference is lack of effective screening and access to timely treatment.
But most women are not aware of the right age to start screening for cervical cancer. Many assume that it is best done after the age of 40; but that is not true. Women can get regular pap smear test every three years starting at 21 years. Do all women need to test themselves? Ideally, women between age of 25 to 65 years should receive an HPV test once every five years. As cervical cancer is silent, it takes a long time to manifest. Therefore, it is paramount that women learn about cervical cancer and test themselves regularly.
SYMPTOMS OF CERVICAL CANCER: Early-stage cervical cancers do not show any signs or symptoms in most cases, but there are some symptoms that every woman should be aware of:
- Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
- Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
- Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
SCREENING AND DETECTION: Screening helps detect cervical cancer and the pre-cancerous cells that may develop into cancer eventually. This is done using Pap Smear and HPV DNA Test. Detection of cancer would involve physical examination by the doctor using a colposcope and biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
PREVENTION OF CERVICAL CANCER:
Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine: Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of Cervical Cancer and other HPV-related Cancers. The vaccine is ideally given before the first sexual contact for maximum protection (ideally between the age of 15-26 years).
Have routine Pap tests: Pap tests can detect pre-cancerous conditions of the cervix, so they can be monitored or treated to prevent cervical cancer.
Practice safe sex: Reduce your risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent Sexually Transmitted Infections, such as using a condom every time you have sex, and limiting the number of sexual partners.
Do not smoke: If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you quit.
HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR PAP OR HPV TEST? You should not schedule your test for a time when you are having your period. If you are going to have a test in the next two days:
- Do not douche (rinse the vagina with water or another fluid)
- Avoid a tampon
- Avoid sex
- Do not use a birth control foam, cream, or jelly
- Do not use a medicine or cream in your vagina
Above all, all women should talk to their doctors about cervical cancer and decide on an appropriate screening schedule. For women at high risk for developing cervical cancer, screening is recommended at an earlier age and more often, than for women who have an average risk of cervical cancer.