Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Cervical health awareness month is a chance to raise awareness about how women can protect themselves from HPV (human papillomavirus) and cervical cancer. HPV is a very common infection that spreads through sexual activity, and it causes cervical cancer.
India accounts for 1/4th of global burden of cervical cancer and is the second most common cancer seen in Indian women.
January is cervical cancer awareness month and this information is about how to prevent cervical cancer.
How can cervical cancer awareness month make a difference?
We can use this opportunity to spread the word about important steps women can take to prevent cervical cancer.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Encourage women to get their cervical screening test this year. Let us educate women that having regular Pap smear is important to prevent cervical cancer. Talk to parents about how important it is for their children to get the HPV vaccine. Both boys and girls need the vaccine.
If you haven’t had a pap smear or human papillomavirus (HPV) test recently, there’s no better time than now, given that January is cervical cancer awareness month. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all women get regular screenings to help prevent cervical cancer starting at age 21 or 3 years after being sexually active. This is mainly accomplished through pap smears and HPV tests since nearly all instances of cervical cancer are caused by HPV.
What is cervical cancer?
- Our body is made up of millions and millions of cells. Usually, cells have a life span and they die when they get old or damaged after which new cells are formed and take their place.
- Sometimes due to genetic changes, there can be interference in this orderly process and cells grow disproportionately and eventually turn into a tumor.
- Cancer can happen anywhere in the body, when cancer appears on the cervix it is known as cervical cancer.
Who is at risk for developing cervical cancer?
The main cause for cervical cancer is HPV infection and this is a sexually transmitted disease. If you have been sexually active you are at risk of developing cervical cancer at some point in your life. But not all sexually active women develop cervical cancers, some women are at high risk of developing cervical cancer, such as:
- Early marriage, multiple pregnancies, multiple sexual partners, low genital hygiene, contraceptives, and lack of awareness. This may account for India having the highest count (22 per 1, 00,000) of cervical cancer cases among neighboring countries.
- Women with many sexual partners, or whose partners have had many partners, are more at risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Women who started having sexual intercourse at a very early age.
- Women who have low immunity (for example, those who are taking immunosuppressive drugs after kidney/liver transplant or women who are HIV positive) may be at increased risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Women who smoke are about twice more likely to develop cervical cancer than non-smokers. In particular, if you smoke and have HPV infection, the risk is greater, because smoking suppresses your immune system allowing the persistence of HPV infection.
- Long term use of oral contraceptives increases the risk of developing cervical cancer (≥5-8 years), consult your doctor when you are taking oral contraceptives pills.
- Women with history of sexually transmitted diseases.
- Women who give birth at an early age and the risk increases with the number of
- The biggest risk factor is non-attendance for cervical cancer screening.
How do doctors check for cervical cancer?
Doctors commonly use two different tests to find and prevent cervical cancer—the Pap smear and the HPV test. Your first pap smear should be at age 21, according to the CDC. If the test results come back normal, you won’t need to be tested again for another three years. If you’re older than 30, you can continue to get a pap smear every three years as long as the results come back normal.
- The Pap test is recommended for all sexually active women.
- The recommended age for undergoing the Pap test is at the age of 21 years or 3 years of being sexually active.
- For women aged between 21 and 65, undergoing a Pap test every three years is recommended.
- For women aged 30 to 65 years and those who wish to lengthen the screening interval then Pap test and HPV test is recommended every 5 years. HPV test is also an important test to check for HPV virus as this is the same virus that causes cervical cancer. After 65 years if you have had regular Pap test and all reports have been normal then
What are the diagnoses of cervical cancer?
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should immediately book an appointment with a gynecological oncologist. As mentioned above, and cannot be repeated enough, getting the symptoms explained in time and getting an early diagnosis is key for getting cured and having a quality life.
Your gyne-oncologist may subject you to one or more of the following tests:
1. To confirm the diagnosis
- If your symptoms are suggestive of cervical cancer then your doctor will conduct an internal examination of your vagina to visualize the cervix (also called a per-vaginal examination).
- The specialist may also advise you to undergo a colposcopy.
2. Assessing the extent and spread
- If the tests confirm cervical cancer, the next step is to evaluate the spread and extent of the disease. This will involve further tests like ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, X-ray, blood tests, etc.
If you have any specific questions and concerns about “cervical cancer” and want to meet with a gynecological oncologist, call Dr. Rani Bhat @ +91 8861432428.