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What women should know about cervical cancer?

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Cervical Cancer

What women should know about cervical cancer?

Dr. Meenu Walia
Director-Medical Oncology & Haematology
Cancer Care / Oncology, Medical Oncology

Being one of the fifth most common cancers, “Cervical Cancer” is diagnosed in more than 5, 00,000 women across the world, but it is also one of the preventable cancers. It is responsible for more than 2, 80,000 deaths annually in developing countries.  

Women who are above 15 years of age are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. As per the estimates, approximately 1, 32,000 new cases have been diagnosed and 74,000 deaths have been reported annually, accounting to nearly 1/3rd of global cancer deaths. Unlike other cancers, cervical cancers strike at the productive period of woman’s life.  The incidence rises in 30-34 years of age and peaks at 55-60 years. Indian women face a 2.5% cumulative lifetime risk and 1.4% cumulative death risk from cervical cancer.

What causes it?

It is caused by an infection of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which spreads through sexual contact (or having more than one sex partner). It happens that in some cases, the infection may disappear itself, while causing changes in the cervical cancer cells. More than 50% of the women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer are between 35-55 years of age, while 20% are above 65 years.  Therefore, it is important that you get yourself screened before the age of 70. Though some women may require early screening, depending on what your specialist recommends you.

Risk Factors

Cervical cancer accounts for nearly 20% of cancer related deaths in women in India. Following are the major risk factors that can lead to cervical cancer:

  • Sexually active women with multiple sexual partners are prone to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV),infection which is one of the major causes of cervical cancer.
  • Women who smoke are at a greater risk as – Benzyrene, (cancer causing chemical) from cigarette smoke has been found in the cervical mucus of women who smoke.
  • Using contraceptive pills
  • Multi - parous  women  (those given birth to many children) are at an increased risk of cervical cancer.

Recommended Tests

A  Pap smear test improves the chances of survival and prevents any early cervical cell change from becoming cancerous. The test is conducted by taking sample of cells from a women’s vagina and examining whether the cervix and vagina depict cancer or any cancer related condition. It is a good way to detect about the precancerous conditions that can lead to cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine prevents infection that can be caused by the virus. There was a study conducted on 500 women that a Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) test can be used as an alternative for women who cannot afford a Pap smear test.