Cervical Cancer Month
January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. 1 in every 4 women with a cervix don’t get their cervical screening done, and this awareness month aims to change that. Every year over 300,000 women die of this cancer, and unfortunately, more than 80% of those women are from a low and middle-income country.
In India alone, 67,477 women die from the disease, making it the second most common cancer among women between the age of 15 and 44 years. This is all the more tragic because this type of cancer can be entirely prevented by vaccination of adolescent girls and screening of women.
During January, many local chapters around the country, like the Indian Cancer Society and CAPED India, raise awareness about cervical cancer, HPV disease and seek to spread the word in their communities.
This can mean more tests and treatments, which can be difficult for some. We want everyone to access the information and support they require about cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer develops in the cervix cells, which links the uterus (womb) to the vagina. It is a major killer disease among women. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
HPV is a fairly common virus that may be transmitted through any sexual activity, regardless of gender. It affects around 50% of sexually active persons and is generally removed by the body on its own. It can cause cervical cancer, genital warts, and other diseases when it remains in the body.
Cervical Cancer Symptoms
Cervical cancer in its early stages is usually asymptomatic. Signs of cervical cancer may not become apparent until it is late. They may include the following:
- Vaginal bleeding after a sexual encounter or after menopause
- Vaginal discharge that is watery, bloody, and has a foul odour.
- Pelvic pain or discomfort during intercourse
Cancer can cause symptoms after it has spread:
- Pelvic discomfort
- Having difficulties urinating
- Swollen legs
- Kidney failure
- Pain in the bones
- Weight loss and a loss of appetite
Cervical Cancer Prevention
Guidelines indicate that women should get screened for cervical cancer every three years, starting at the age of 21, but prevention can start as a pre-teen.
Human Papillomavirus, or HPV, is one of the primary causes of cervical cancer. HPV infection is quite common. It will infect 4 out of every 5 people in their lifetime. And the majority of people recover from it with no issue. However, some women who have a chronic HPV infection can end up having cervical cancer.
Health experts stress that while there is no treatment for HPV, there are two main ways to protect against cervical cancer- vaccination and routine health screenings.
When given between the ages of 9 and 12, the vaccination offers the most protection. However, even if you’ve had an HPV vaccine, it is still essential to receive regular cervical cancer screenings.
So when you get the health screening, you’ll know whether you are HPV infected. You’ll know whether you have healthy cells or abnormal cells, and then your provider can help to develop the treatment plan to prevent cervical cancer.
Prevention is the best medicine. So talk to a doctor to make sure you take the proper precautions against this potentially cancer-causing virus.
Cervical Cancer Diagnosis
The PAP and HPV test can help prevent or detect cervical cancer.
- The PAP test (or PAP smear) checks for precancers, which are cell abnormalities in the cervix that might progress to cervical cancer if not treated properly.
- The HPV test looks for the virus (Human Papillomavirus) responsible for these cell changes.
Both tests are available in a doctor’s office. The doctor will use plastic or metal equipment called a speculum to enlarge your vagina during the PAP test.
This allows the doctor to inspect the vagina and the cervix and collect a few cells and mucus from the cervix and the surrounding region. Then the cells are sent to a laboratory.
- If you ask for a PAP test, the cells will be examined to see if they are normal.
- If you have tested for HPV, the cells will be examined for HPV.
Cervical Cancer Vaccine
Vaccine for HPV is mainly for the younger generation, and it’s for people that have not been diagnosed with HPV infection or cancer, but it’s recommended for girls and boys aged 9 to 26. The vaccination may be less effective if someone has been infected with HPV. Also, younger children respond better to the vaccine than older children.
The CDC advises that all 11 and 12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccination at least six months apart. Younger adolescents (ages 9 and 10) and teens (ages 13 and 14) can also be vaccinated in two doses. The two-dose plan is helpful for children under the age of 15.
Teens and young adults who begin the immunisation series later, between the ages of 15 and 26, should receive three vaccine dosages.
The CDC advises catch-up HPV vaccines for all persons under the age of 26 who have not been sufficiently immunised.
Even if you currently have one strain of HPV, you may benefit from the vaccination since it can protect you from other strains that you do not yet have. However, none of the vaccinations can cure an existing HPV infection. The vaccines only protect you against strains of HPV that you haven’t already been introduced to.
Cervical Cancer In India is so frequent that it accounts for roughly 6%–29% of all cancers in women. But with regular health screening programs, affordable healthcare, and an awareness campaign like cervical cancer month that addresses the stigma associated with such tests are critical to fighting cervical cancer in India.
To diagnose cervical cancer in its early stages, contact your doctor for frequent PAP tests at the age of 21. Getting vaccinated at an early age is the only step to limit the spread of HPV virus. If you discover any signs or symptoms of cervical cancer, the right diagnosis and early medical assistance go a long way.