The number of women suffering from Cervical Cancer has seen a steady rise in the past few years. And so, January has been designated as the Cervical Cancer Awareness Month. Keeping in mind the seriousness of this issue and the urgent need to spread awareness among the Indian women, we spoke directly to a gynecologist to get a better understanding of this disease.
Here’s what she had to say:
Q: What is the most common question that you are asked about Cervical Cancer?
A: Most patients who visit me, ask what causes Cervical Cancer. Truthfully, there are multiple things that can cause this cancer, but the most prominent one is Human Papillomavirus aka HPV. HPV is an infection that occurs through unprotected sex or multiple sexual partners. Other factors like weak immune system, smoking, infections like Chlamydia can also trigger the disease.
Q: What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
A: Generally, early stages don’t have any specific symptoms. But consult a doctor if you observe
- Heavy vaginal discharge
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Pain during sex or urination
Q: Has the number of cases of Cervical Cancer increased in the last few years?
A: Yes, although we have expanded the possibilities of curing this disease, the number of cases has increased by almost four times. And it is expected to rise even more in the future. In 2017, the number of new cases rose to 12, 820. But the death rate has significantly reduced, thanks to modern treatments.
Q: What age group of women are most at risk?
A: The peak or the median age of this disease diagnosis is 49. Older women are at a higher risk of developing this cancer. As per the stats, more than 15% of the fresh cases were diagnosed in women close to the age of 65. However, this disease is quite rare among women younger than the age of 20.
Q: What preventive measures can a woman take?
A: Although this is the second most common cancer in women after Breast Cancer, the following measures can be taken to lower down the risk:
The HPV vaccine is available in the market that protects the body against HPV. This vaccine is recommended for both women and men, and it helps in preventing the body from uterine, ovarian, vaginal, throat and mouth, and penis cancer.
- Screening Test
It is always advisable to get regular screening tests. This disease is treatable if detected early. There are two types of screening tests:
Pap Test - This test is performed by a doctor, in which cell samples are taken from the cervix. The doctor then examines the sample under a microscope, and identifies if the cells are cancerous or not.
HPV Test - The High Risk HPV test identifies the HPV types that are a primary cause of cervical cancer. In this case, if the test result comes positive, then the doctor will keep follow-up sessions with you to make sure that the cells don’t go abnormal/cancerous.
Q: How often should a woman get screened for this cancer?
A: It is imperative that the Pap test start at an age of 21. Women between the age group of 21 and 29, should get a Pap test done every 3 years, while the women between age 30 and 65 should get a test done every 5 years.
Q: What should a patient expect if she finds out she has cervical cancer?
A: No woman should wake up to a morning where she finds out that she has been diagnosed with this disease. But, unfortunately, if she has been, then it is not the end of the world. There are surgeries and therapies that will help in curing this disease. A patient can expect to undergo surgery, radiation therapy or chemo therapy, depending upon the stage of the cancer and the patient’s age. Remember, if detected early, Cervical Cancer is treatable.
Q: Can a woman who has been treated for Cervical Cancer, have children?
A: Fertility is possible if the patient has been completely treated, but it highly depends on how early the cancer was detected. Again, earlier the detection, higher the chances of pregnancy.
What we learned: It’s important to pay attention to your body. Look out for the signs mentioned above, get vaccinated, get regular screenings, and strengthen your immune system. If you have any more questions that you would like answered, please write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
In conversation with Dr.Premlata Bhagat, OB-GYN, Mumbai