Till a few years back, the term Cervical Cancer was not a part of people's vocabulary. Unfortunately, the number of Cervical cancer cases has seen a tragic rise in the recent past. Let's explore this condition and discover the methods of early detection.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is an abnormal growth of cells in the uterine cervix, which attaches the uterus with the vagina, forming a passage between the vaginal and uterine cavity. According to a survey done in the US, every year more than 13,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, which is an alarming number. But, it has the highest cure rate if detected at a preliminary stage.
What causes Cervical Cancer?
- The HPV infection (which causes warts around genitals and is a common sexually transmitted disease) is the most prominent cause behind the development of cervical cancer. Some strains of this virus are deadly in nature and can transform normal cervical cells into abnormal cells. These cells can become cancerous in nature over a span of a few years or even decades.
- Girls, who were exposed to the medicine Diethylstilbestrol (DES) when they were in still the womb, stand a greater risk of developing cervical cancer in the later stages of their lives. This medicine is a type of estrogen that doctors would prescribe to prevent miscarriages in pregnant women. It was taken off the US markets after a study confirmed that it causes the development of abnormal cells in the cervix and vagina. Sadly, there is no test available to determine whether a woman was ever exposed to this medicine.
- There are two types of cells in cervix- Squamous cells and Glandular cells. The point where they meet in the body is known as the ‘transition zone’. It is here that most precancerous cells start to develop. Out of 100%, the Squamous cells contribute to 90% of cervical cancers while the remaining 10% is contributed by the Glandular cells.
What are the most common symptoms?
The symptoms of Cervical Cancer are not very prominent until it reaches an advanced stage. The initial symptoms in women are often dismissed as a yeast infection, urinary tract infection or problems concerning the menstrual cycle.
You must keep an eye out for these signs:
- Frequent bouts of pelvic pain
- Increased frequency of urination
- Occurrence of abnormal bleeding after sex, between menstrual periods, after menopause or after a pelvic exam
- Painful urination
- Vaginal discharge of an abnormal color, smell, amount or consistency
If you notice any of the above signs, it is advisable to consult a doctor.
What are the risk factors involved?
Here are some factors that could lead to Cervical Cancer:
- Poor immune system
- History of 3 or more full-term pregnancies
- Excessive tobacco smoking
- Sexual intercourse with the infected person
- Long-term use of oral contraceptives
- Being overweight
- Genetic history of cervical cancer
- Bearing a full-term pregnancy before the age of 17
- HIV infection
How can it be prevented?
It’s possible to minimize the risk of cervical cancer by reducing the probability to get an HPV infection. Young girls and women between the age group 9 and 26 years, can safeguard themselves by taking the HPV vaccine. Although you might get confused over different kinds of HPV vaccines available in the market, the types 16 and 18 are usually associated with cervical cancer. It is advisable to get yourself vaccinated before you become sexually active in life.
Some other ways that could help in prevention of the cancer are as follows:
- Avoid smoking tobacco
- Practice safe sex
- Get yourself routine Pap Smears
- Get vaccinated
Cervical cancer is treatable if diagnosed at an earlier stage. However, the choice of treatment and its outcome are based on the type and stage of cancer. Other factors like your desire to have children, overall health and quality of life you lead will determine the method of your treatment. You can explore the following options:
- Radiation therapy
Cervical cancer can be treated. But you must pay close attention to what your body might be telling you. Routine health check-ups with Pap Smears are a must, especially for women who are 30 years and older. Educate yourself, and the women around you. Make your health a priority.
It matters. Period.