Do you find blood spots between your periods? Are your periods longer and heavier than usual? Do you bleed every time after sex? Does your vaginal discharge have a strong odour? These could be the initial symptoms of cervical cancer and time to visit the doctor.
India alone contributes to one-third of the global fatalities due to cervical cancer. It is the second most common cancer in Indian women. Cervical cancer affects the cells of the cervix, the lowermost part of the uterus that connects to the vagina.
Majority of the Cervical cancers are caused by Human papillomavirus (HPV). Our human immune system is designed to prevent the papillomavirus from causing any severe harm. But the virus has the capability to remain active for many years and can infect the healthy cells in the cervix region transforming them to cancerous cells.
Indian women are often diagnosed too late
Countries with a low socio-demographic index have a large number of women who succumb to cervical cancer. In countries like India, many women seek treatment only when cancer has reached the advanced stage due to lack of awareness and ignorance leading to difficulties in treating the cancer. In developed countries, women take part in regular screening programmes that can help diagnosis of cervical cancer in its early stages, hence the recovery rate is high. Also, the stigma attached to pelvic examination amongst Indian women is one of the reasons for late detection of cervical cancer.
Who are at risk?
A woman is more susceptible to cervical cancer when their immune system is compromised by HIV or AIDS and also in women who have undergone transplant surgery by the use of immunosuppressive medications. Apart from the above, women who have used birth control pills for more than five years, those who have given birth to more than three children and those with several sex partners are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
Stages of Cervical cancer:
Based on the extent of the cancer spread, Cervical cancer stage ranges from Stage 1 to Stage 4. Lower the stage, cancer is at an initial stage. A higher stage cancer means that the cancer is in its advanced stages.
Stage 1 and higher cure rate:
In this stage, the cancer is just in the neck of the womb. It is at this stage that the majority of the patients can be cured. Here the cancer has not spread to the nearby tissues or other organs. Cancer in stage 1 is divided into stage 1 A and stage 1 B and these two are further divided into smaller groups. In stage 1, the size of the cancerous cells varies from microscopic which can grow up to 4cm.
The stage 1 cervical cancer is commonly treated with surgical treatment. Surgery involves removing the cervix and the womb (hysterectomy). In cases with initial stage of cervical cancers, the surgery involves removal of most part of the cervix, but it is also taken care that the women can conceive post the surgery. This method is called as a radial tracheostomy. In some cases, involving abnormal cervical cells, the whole cancer is removed a large loop excision of the transformation zone or cone biopsy. Based on the extent of cancer, the type of surgery is advised along with chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the advanced stages.
Early detection is the key:
Regular screening has helped in early detection of cervical cancer and saving lives. HPV and Pap tests are the standard tests done to diagnose cervical cancer. Women aged 20 and above should have the Pap test done once in 3 years and those aged 30-65 years should get the Pap and HPV test done every 5 years.
Prevention and early diagnosis is key to treating any kind of health condition. Therefore, it is advised to go for a regular check up and get tested routinely. Hospitals are taking all the necessary precautions for the safety of the patients.
Credit: Dr. Shafalika S B, Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Columbia Asia Referral Hospital, Yeshwanthpur