Cancer of the cervix or cervical cancer is the second leading cause of female cancer deaths in India . However, it is preventable & there is actually a vaccine available for its prevention. Being aware about it is half the battle won !
Causes of Cervical Cancer & risk factors
- Human Papilloma Virus ( a sexually transmitted infection )
- Multiple sexual partners
- Early onset of sexual activity
- Multiple childbirths
- HIV infection
What are the Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
Precancerous stages may not give symptoms but are picked up by routine screening tests of Pap’s smear & HPV- DNA testing. Advanced stages may present with abnormal vaginal bleeding, foul smelling discharge vaginally, Bleeding after intercourse or after menopause.
Screening & Diagnosis
Screening for cervical cancer is done by Pap’s smear & HPV- DNA testing. Pap’s smear is one of the greatest success stories of preventive medicine. It is an OPD procedure done by inserting a speculum into the vagina & removing cells from cervix with the help of a brush or a spatula. The cells are then collected in a liquid medium or spread on a glass slide & sent for microscopic examination.
Diagnosis is confirmed by visual examination of cervix, colposcopy & cervix biopsy.
This depends entirely on the stage of the disease. In early stages, local removal of the cervix may be done but in later stages, Uterus with cervix, tubes & ovaries are removed. Radiation & / or Chemotherapy may be used alone or alongwith surgery in advanced stages.
Prevention & Vaccination
Prevention is primarily by avoiding the risk factors. Use of barrier contraceptives ( male/Female condoms ) prevents transmission of HPV , which is a major causes of cervical cancer. More than 76 % cases are caused by HPV infection. HPV is a sexually transmitted infection & hence having multiple sexual partners increases the risk.
Routine screening with Pap’s smear must be done every 3 years in all sexually active women. Alternatively, Pap’s smear alongwith HPV – DNA testing may be done every 5 yrs. Even women with a single steady partner are strongly recommended to undertake routine screening with Pap’s smear.
Vaccination is against various strains of HPV & provides reliable protection against cervical cancer. There are 2 types of vaccines available, both given in 3 doses over a period of 6 months. Women who have been vaccinated should still undergo routine screening with Pap’s smear.