Cervical Cancer: Awareness Is Protection!!
Written by: Dr Diksha S Chadha, M.D.
Dr Diksha is a preventive health specialist. In this article, she explains how awareness about cervical cancer and timely check ups can help prevent the deadly disease. This article is part of our expert blog series.
Cervical cancer is one of the top three cancers among women globally. According to a report in Lancet, over half a million women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and the disease results in over 300 000 deaths worldwide annually.
Cervix is the short part at the end of uterus that opens it into the vaginal tract. The wall of cervix is made of many layers and the innermost layer undergoes multiple changes throughout the life and menstrual cycles of a woman. A virus known as HPV is one of the most common causes that lead to cancer of the cervix. This virus commonly enters the cervix through sexual activity if your partner also harbours the infection. Lack of organised screening and HPV vaccination programmes results in low-income and middle-income countries having approximately 90% of cervical cancer cases.
The best way to protect yourself from any future infection is to lower your risk by practicing safe sex and maintaining proper intimate hygiene. As stated above, vaccine against HPV can play an important role in saving you from the virus and consequently cervical cancer. It can be prescribed to girls in their early teenage years till their menopausal stages. Consult your gynaecologist to know more about the type of vaccines available in your area and the protection they offer.
Since there are multiple factors that contribute towards cervical cancer risk, it is important to get yourself screened for any early signs of infection with HPV or any early changes in the cervix. Pap Smear is a simple pain-free test that can be performed by your gynaecologist to look for these early changes. The process of the test involves a simple stroke of light brushing of the cervical lining to collect superficial cells from the cervix. A pathologist then checks for any signs of inflammation or any changes suggestive of cervical cancer in these cells under the microscope. Since early detection of cervical cancer remarkably improves the chances of its treatment, it is important to get a Pap Smear test done at least once in two years upon initiation of sexual activity.
It is ideal to schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss your individual history and exposure level to understand the risk you may have. Apart from this, there are plenty of genetic and environmental factors to be considered as well and it is important to evaluate your individual risk before any symptoms appear.