All you need to know about cervical cancer | Know your risk
Every year approximately 96,922 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer of which more than 60,000 women succumb to the disease. This is majorly due to late diagnosis and lack of regular screening. It is considered to be the 2nd most common cancer detected amongst women of 15-44 years of age.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is defined as a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the cervix. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus which connects to the vagina.
The cervix is divided into two parts, namely; the endocervix (opening of the cervix which leads to the uterus) and the ectocervix (outer part of the cervix which is visible in a speculum exam). Both these parts are made of different types of cells (glandular cells and squamous cells respectively). The area where these two regions meet is called the transformation zone. Most cervical cancers begin here itself.
This, however, is a gradual process. The normal cells present in the cervix first develop abnormal changes. These pre-cancerous changes are also referred to as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), the squamous intraepithelial lesion (SIL) and dysplasia. Pre-cancerous changes can be detected in a Pap test.
While the exact causes of cervical cancer are still unclear, HPV or human papilloma virus is known to play a role. Not all women with HPV develop cervical cancer.
Lack of awareness, overlooking the need to routine gynaecological screening and lifestyle changes have all contributed towards the increasing occurrence of cervical cancer. Dr Deepika Aggarwal (Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the CK Birla Hospital) explores the various warning signs of cervical cancer to watch out for, its risk factors and the need for routine screening.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
Similar to almost all other forms of cancer, early detection offers the best chance of complete recovery from cancer. Some of the early symptoms of cervical cancer include:
- Blood spots or light bleeding between or following periods
- Menstrual bleeding that is longer and heavier than usual
- Bleeding after intercourse, douching, or a pelvic examination
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Vaginal discharge of a different colour or smell
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Bleeding after menopause
These symptoms don’t necessarily mean cervical cancer but you must seek the opinion of a gynaecologist.
Cervical cancer screening
Cervical screening (which is also called a smear test) involves taking a small sample of cells from the surface of the cervix. This is then sent to the laboratory to see if there are any abnormal cells which can turn into cancer if left untreated.
Cervical cancer screening is done with Pap testing (LBC- liquid base cytology) and/ or HPV testing.
Connect with one of our top gynaecologists today to speak about scheduling a screening, receiving the HPV vaccination, or to discuss your symptoms. Book an appointment at the CK Birla Hospital now.
What puts a woman at risk of cervical cancer?
One of the most important risk factors for cervical cancer is infection by HPV or human papilloma virus. HPV is a group of 150 viruses and can cause a type of growth called papilloma. It can affect cells on the skin, lining the genitals, anus, mouth and throat.
HPV spreads via skin-to-skin contact and any type of sexual intercourse. Most types of HPV are considered low risk type, they rarely cause cancer. The HPV types that cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, penis, anus, mouth and throat are called high risk HPV.
Smoking has also been shown to increase the risk of developing cervical cancer amongst other health conditions. Other risk factors include chlamydia infection, long term use of oral contraceptives, multiple full-term pregnancies, unhealthy diet and becoming pregnant at a very young age.
Cervical cancer prevention
The most effective way to prevent cervical cancer is to get screened regularly. Visit your gynaecologist for routine HPV screening, pap smear and general health check-up. If you are sexually active, you should also get screened for STDs once in a while. Those with weak immune systems or those suffering from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) will be more likely to contract cervical cancer and hence, should take additional precautions against it.
HPV Vaccine can also be taken to prevent cervical cancer. It is available at the CK Birla Hospital. Connect with Dr. Deepika Aggarwal, expert gynaecologist at the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology to learn more.