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Cervical Cancer: The Dreaded Disease Killing Over 60,000 Women Every Year

If you don’t treat an HPV infection it can cause the cells to turn into cancer by forming into a tumour over time.

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Cervical cancer has become one of the major causes of death in women. According to WHO’s Cancer Report, in India, women suffer more from cervix, breast and ovarian cancers. It is usually not possible to know exactly why one person develops cancer and another doesn’t. However, we can control certain lifestyle choices to reduce the chances of contracting cancers including cervical cancer. 

Cervix of a woman connects her uterus with her vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal or pre-cancerous cells start to develop. The human cervix has two parts ectocervix which is of healthy pink colour and is covered in flat thin squamous cells as well as endocervix which is the cervical canal and is made up of columnar cells. The area where endocervix and ectocervix meet is the transformation zone which is the most likely region where abnormal and pre-cancerous cells can develop. 

HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer 

The leading cause of cervical cancer is Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is found in about 99% of cervical cancer cases. There are over 100 different types of HPV which are considered low risk and do not result in cervical cancer. Nonetheless the high risk cancer types are HPV-16 and HPV-18 and if a woman has persistent HPV infection then she must see a doctor immediately as they are at a greater risk of developing cervical cell abnormalities.

To prevent more deaths, PAP deaths must continue

Precancerous cervical cell does not cause any prominent symptoms which is why regular screening through Pap and HPV tests is recommended. They can catch precancerous cells early and prevent the development of cervical cancer. Widespread use of the Pap test led to dramatic declines in deaths from cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine can reduce the risk of cervical cancer. HPV causes most cervical cancers. Adolescents are not getting HPV vaccination as often as other recommended vaccines, even though it is safe and effective.

Doctors, nurses, and health systems can:

  • Make sure patients get their screening results and the right follow-up care quickly.

  • Use reminder-recall systems to help doctors, nurses, and patients remember when screening and HPV vaccination are due.

  • Strongly recommend that preteens and teens get vaccinated against HPV.

Look for these signs to know if you have cervical cancer or not 

The possible symptoms of advanced cervical cancer are: 

  • Abnormal bleeding that includes: bleeding between regular menstrual periods, bleeding after sexual intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding after douching and bleeding after a pelvic exam 

  • Pelvic pain that is not related to the menstrual cycle 

  • Unusual or heavy discharge that is watery, thick or foul-smelling 

  • Pain during urination as well as increased urinary frequency 

These symptoms can also be a result of some other condition than cancer so please see your doctor know what it is. 

Risk Factors 

  • Women who do these following things are at a higher risk of cervical cancer than others. 

  • Girls who started having sex before the age of 16 as well as before their first period 

  • Take birth control pills for more than 5 years 

  • Have a weak immune system 

  • Women who are sexually active with more than one partner 

  • Women who have been diagnosed with STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Disease)

Cervical Cancer Exams and Diagnosis 

Papinicolaou test (Pap Smear) is an advanced form of cervical cancer screening which is a part of a woman’s regular screening exam. The procedure is as follows as the doctor collects cells from the surface of your cervix and looks at them under the microscope. After this, if anything unusual is spotted then they will extract a bit of cervical tissue for a biopsy which will help in the further examination. 

Another method is a colonoscopy in which the doctor will stain your cervix with a harmless dye or acetic acid to improve the visibility of cells. After that, the doctor will use a microscope to magnify your cervix by 8 to 15 times to look for unusual cells. 

One more method is the Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) wherein the doctor uses an electrified loop of wire to take a sample tissue of your cervix for a better look. If you don’t treat an HPV infection it can cause the cells to turn into cancer by forming into a tumour over time.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
cervical cancer healthcare

Dr Nandita Palshetkar

The author is IVF & Infertility Specialist

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