It was in 1980s that HPV was identified in cervical cancer tissue. However, not all women with HPV infection develop Cervical Cancer.
A cancer that occurs in the tissues of the cervix (a lower part of uterus or womb that connects to vagina) develops slowly over a period of time. Before cancer develops, the cells of the cervix go through changes known as Dysplasia- a condition in which the cells that are not normal begin to appear in the cervical tissue. Later, cancer cells start to grow and spread more deeply into the cervix and surrounding tissues.
Warning Signs and Symptoms
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding during sex
- Discomfort or pain during sex
- Any unpleasant vaginal discharge
What are the risk factors of Cervical Cancer?
In the early 20th century, Epidemiologists noted that Cervical Cancer behaved like a sexually transmitted disease. It was observed:
• Cervical Cancer occurred commonly in female sex workers
• Rare in nuns
• More common in the second wives of men whose first wives had died from Cervical Cancer
• Rare in Jewish women
This led to the suspicion that Cervical Cancer could be caused by a sexually transmitted agent.
Other risk factors in women
• Multiparous (given birth to many children)
• Multiple sexual partners
• Having first sexual intercourse at a young age
• Smoking cigarettes
• Using oral contraceptives ('the Pill')
How is Cervical Cancer diagnosed?
As part of regular pelvic exam, all women should have a Pap test. Other tests which may help in diagnosis include:
• Endocervical Curettage
After Cervical Cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the cervix or to other parts of the body. This process is called as staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease, thus, it is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
How is it treated?
Depending on the stage of cancer, one or more treatments or a combination of treatments may be required.
- Radiation therapy
Cervical screening by the Pap Smear for cervical cancer can detect cancer at a very early stage, and has actually reduced the mortality from cervical cancer.
What is Pap Smear?
It is an OPD procedure in which test is done during an internal examination of the vagina. It is not painful and takes only a few minutes. An instrument called the speculum is inserted to hold the walls of the vagina and some cells are gently taken using a spatula and smeared on a glass slide. This slide is tested in a laboratory for abnormal cells.
Who are the right candidates who should get a Pap Smear done?
The women between 21 and 70 years as well as those who have been sexually active.
How often should it be done?
Atleast 3 yearly.
Is there any method for prevention of Cervical Cancer?
There are two HPV vaccines which reduce the risk of Cervical Cancer. HPV vaccines are typically given to women between 9 to 26 years as the vaccine is only effective if given before infection occurs.
Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer, not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctors if you think you may be at risk.
Prevention is better than cure!