Cervical cancer is a kind of cancer that affects the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects the vagina. It is caused by the Human Papillomavirus or HPV and is a sexually transmitted viral infection, which plays a crucial role in causing cervical cancer.
- Cervical cancer is the fourth most frequent cancer in women across the world and the second-most common cancer to affect women in India.
- It is not clear what causes cervical cancer, but it’s a certainty that HPV plays an important role in cervical cancer.
- Typically, HPV transmits through sexual contact and initially, when exposed to it for the first time, the first response of the immune system is to prevent the virus from causing any harm to the body.
- However, in a small percentage of women, the virus may survive for years, contributing to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancerous.
While HPV is quite common, most people with HPV usually demonstrate no symptoms, and most of them with the virus never develop cancer. In most cases, the body fights off the infection on its own, but it's pertinent to know that there are more than 100 types of HPV, and they generally affect different parts of the body. The type of HPV that affects the genitals are transmitted after sexual contact, while other types, like those that cause warts on the hands and feet, are not. Sexually transmitted HPV can also cause genital warts which appear as flat lesions.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
The first sign of HPV that may or may not lead to cervical cancer is in the form of genital warts or itching. A few other early signs of cervical cancer are as follows:
- Irregular spotting or light bleeding in between periods for women of the reproductive age.
- Post-menopausal spotting or bleeding
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Increased vaginal discharge (which may be foul smelling in some cases)
As the cancer progresses, certain more severe symptoms may appear in the form of:
- Persistent back, leg or pelvic pain
- Weight loss, fatigue, loss of appetite
- Swelling of a leg or both
Usually, the diagnosis of cervical cancer can be done by an oncologist through a histopathologic exam. It is common to have more questions of cervical cancer clouding your mind.
HPV risk factors
- Many sexual partners. It’s been observed that chances of HPV increase in those people who have multiple sexual partners.
- Sexually transmitted infections. The chances of getting HPV increases in those persons who suffer from other sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV/AIDS.
- Early sexual activity. The chances of HPV in those persons increases greatly who become sexually active at an early age.
- Smoking. Smoking is not only associated with causing lung cancer but is also associated with the development of squamous cell cervical cancer.
- Weak immune system. The chances for getting cervical cancer increases in those persons who have a weakened immune system, along with HPV.
- Use of Diethylstilbestrol. For those women who took a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant during the 1950s, they may face greater risk of developing a certain kind of cervical cancer, called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
Treatment for HPV and Cervical Cancer
Screening for cancerous lesions is recommended both pre and post HPV infection. Testing needs to be done for more women, so that if screening detects any pre-cancerous lesions or signs of an HPV infection, treatment can be done at an advanced stage in order to avoid cancer. Screening for cancerous lesions can not only detect cancer at an earlier stage, but the treatment has high potential towards full recovery.
While one cannot be sure of when the HPV will affect, there are some ways in which you can prevent this infection from occurring to reduce your chances of contracting cancer.
- HPV vaccine. Receiving HPV vaccine is a safe way to reduce risk of cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are currently 3 vaccines for HPV, which are known to cure 70 percent of cervical cancers. Clinical trials and post marketing surveillance show that HPV vaccine is safe and effective in preventing infections from occurring. They work best, if administered prior to exposure as it has been found that the chances of HPV in those persons increases greatly who experience early sexual activity. Therefore, WHO recommends it for girls between the age of 9 -14 years, as an effective public health measure.
- Get routine Pap tests. Pap tests can detect precancerous environments in the cervix, and therefore, should be conducted at regular intervals to prevent cervical cancer. Since cancerous lesions can take time to develop, therefore, screening is recommended for women from the age of 30 years and above. In high income countries, where vaccination is available, programs regarding screening and testing are being made available so that cervical cancer can be identified at an early stage. However, in middle- and low-income countries like India, access to preventative measures is limited and thus, the cancer can only be identified when it’s in its advanced stages. This results in a high mortality rate from cervical cancers, which can only be reduced by effective interventions.
- Safe sex. One can reduce the risk of cervical cancer by taking measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, like using a condom every time during sex and limiting the number of sexual partners.
- Quit smoking. Smoking is a dangerous habit and makes you susceptible to many kinds of diseases, even cervical cancer. Therefore, if you smoke, quit.
Cancer is a deadly disease. Therefore, one can only hope to win it by taking adequate precautions. For cervical cancer, this means taking utmost care of your intimate areas, so that it remains clean and away from infection. Carmesi’s Intimate Cleanser is a natural and remarkably gentle product for your intimate region that maintains hygiene and restores the pH balance without irritating the skin.