Mostly seen in 35-50 year old women, cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Indian women and targets younger and older women alike. According to a cervical cancer study, cervical cancer claims 5 lac women's lives worldwide, every year - making it as much of a threat as breast cancer. Today, Dr. Madhu Goel, Senior Consultant, Obst.& Gynecology at Rockland Hospital, helps us understand facts about the risks, symptoms, prevention and cure regarding cervical cancer.
Cervical Cancer: Who is at risk?
With negligent visible symptoms in early stages, cervical cancer can stay unnoticed for many years. However, a few symptoms like foul smelling vaginal discharge, bleeding after sexual activity, persistent lower abdominal and back pain indicate the disease.
The sarcoma begins with abnormal changes in the cervical tissue. The risk of developing these abnormal changes has been associated with certain factors, including previous infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), early sexual contact, multiple sexual partners, poor hygiene, cigarette smoking and HIV positivity.
Smoking, sexual intercourse at an early age, multiple partners, intercourse with someone who has had multiple partners, and taking oral contraceptives for an extended period of time are some of the lifestyle factors which may expose a woman to the risk of contracting cervical cancer.
Prevention and cure
With an estimated 132,000 new cases every year and 74,000 deaths, India seems to be a ticking bomb for cervical cancer. India can however ward off the menace by vaccinating its women against these two strains that could effectively eliminate 75 per cent of the cancer.
Cervical cancer vaccine can prevent human papiloma virus induced cervical cancer if given before the start of sexual activity. It can be given to young girls and is recommended for the age group between nine to 26 years. The vaccine is safe and does not show any adverse effects. Cervical cancer vaccines are proved to be highly effective against the commonest strains of HPV causing cancer. However it is important to understand the sooner one is vaccinated, the better the results are.
When it comes to cure, surgery is the initial step if the cancer has been detected in its early stages. This may be followed by radiotherapy if there is a case of relapse. Occasionally, chemotherapy is done to shrink the cancer before surgery. Staging is generally performed to test the severity of the disease.
Prevention is always a better option than cure. Sometimes lifestyle changes are a deciding factor. All women who are sexually active should visit their gynaecologist every year and get a ‘Pap smear’ test done of the cervical secretion. This is a standard practice all over the world, which detects the disease in 90 per cent cases. In fact, all prep- malignant (stages before the disease develops) can also be diagnosed and cured.
India has the largest incidence of cervical cancer in the world which may be related to socio-economic condition, early marriage and early child delivery. Women should go for yearly PAP smear as early as the age of 25. Practicing safe sex would also help in preventing the disease.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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