Demystifying Cervical Cancer

March 16, 2017

Health

Cancer is wonderful – as a star sign on the zodiac.

And yet, in recent times, we’ve come to associate the word with something more noxious, a term that makes us wince in fear and trepidation. Many a time, this fear is deep-seated in unawareness, lack of information and unfamiliarity with the causes and treatments for cancer.

Today, we open the lid on one of the most common types of cancer – one that is snaking its way to the top of the cancer charts in how many lives it is affecting – cervical cancer. Cervical cancer stems from the exploded growth of cells in the cervix that can penetrate other parts of the body. It claims the lives of approximately 70,000 Indian women annually.

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Vaginal bleeding, pain during intercourse, unusual vaginal discharge or pain in the pelvis are all common symptoms of cervical cancer. In the later stages of cancer, the range of symptoms may grow to include:

  • Backaches
  • Weight loss
  • Exhaustion
  • Inflammation or pain in the leg
  • Passing urine or faeces from the vagina
  • Susceptibility to bone fractures

Causes of Cervical Cancer

There are no sacrosanct criteria when it comes to the ambit for cervical cancer. But there are risks attached to certain lifestyle choices and genetic mutations that can influence the onset of it. Here are some of them:

  • Inheritance: If there are traces of cervical cancer in your family tree, you may inherit it. If your mother or sister was a victim of it, you’re twice as likely to develop it.
  • Age: Cervical cancer usually affects women between 20 and 50. Again, there’s no algorithm that cancer employs to filter women exclusively within this age group. There’s a greater chance; that’s all.
  • Smoking: Smoking can change the cell composition within the body, prompting the development of cancerous cells. In fact, your odds of contracting cervical cancer double if you’re a smoker.
  • Extended use of birth control pills: If you’ve been using birth control pills for several years, it may be worthwhile to consider an alternative – there’s evidence that these pills could incite cervical cancer.

Prevention of Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer, when detected at the right time, can be warded off:

  • Pap test: A pap test examines a smear of cells taken from your cervix to ascertain the presence of cancer. In some cases, doctors find pre-cancerous cells – which is a good sign. This means that the advent of a potential cancer can be stopped there and then. But let’s say the cells aren’t pre-cancerous. Let’s say they’re cancerous. If they are, your doctor will test to see what stage the cancer is at. Like any cancer, the sooner you catch it, the better your chances at conquering it. Radiation and chemotherapy are the most popular options to treat cervical cancer – and the success rate is entirely dependent on how much the cancer has advanced. It’s recommended that you get a pap test done regularly.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) test: HPV is a virus that triggers up to 90% of cervical cancer cases. It’s a sexually transmitted virus – and a very common one at that – which means that if you’ve been sexually active with several partners, there’s a higher probability of you having contracted it.
  • Vaccine: The vaccine for cervical cancer hasn’t created as much of a buzz in India as it should have, and it’s probably because most women don’t know it exists. There are two types of vaccines currently available – the bivalent, and the quadrivalent – the latter slightly more expensive than the former. The reason? Bivalent vaccines protect you from 2 types of HPVs while quadrivalent ones protect you from 70% of HPVs. It’s recommended that girls between 9 and 13 take a vaccine, although it can be taken by women up to the age of 26. After that, it becomes a costly proposition, simply because the body’s immune reaction becomes weaker after this age.

If you have any of the symptoms we’ve listed above, speak to a gynaecologist right away. Don’t be worried just yet – your symptoms could be a result of something else entirely. And even if it is cervical cancer, there are treatment options that could work. If you have a daughter, consider vaccinating her while she’s still in the ideal age band.

Build a wonder wall between you and cancer while you still can. Life is too precious to let cancer get in the way.

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