Making your health a priority is crucial. As the proverb goes, “Health is Wealth,” which defines that even if a person is rich and has all the luxuries, they are not living a worthy life if their health is weak. Access to a healthy and good life is a right and a responsibility.
One of the commonly known diseases is Cervical cancer, which occurs in the cervix cells, a lower part of the uterus which connects to the vagina.
Cervical cancer is a highly preventable disease, and an early-stage diagnosis has significantly improved survival rates. Effective primary and secondary care prevention can reduce most cervical cancer cases.
Therefore, this blog article provides a basic understanding of cervical cancer.
What is cervical cancer?
Cervical cancer is found in the cervix cells- the lower part of the uterus which connects to the vagina.
Cervical cancer generally develops slowly over time. Before cancer is seen in the cervix, the cells of the cervix go through a change known as dysplasia, where abnormal cells start to grow in the cervical tissue.
When not treated early, the abnormal cells develop into cancer cells and infiltrate into the cervix and surrounding parts. Early detection needs regular screening.
Almost all cervical cancer is caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV is a widespread virus transferred from one person to another during sex, causing infection.
There are various types of HPV infections. Some HPV types cause changes in women's cervix over time, leading to cervical cancer and some cause genital or skin warts.
HPV is ubiquitous, and people will experience it at some point. It generally shows no symptoms, making it difficult to self-diagnose.
In most women, HPV infection gets cured naturally. However, when unresolved, there is a high chance of it developing into cancer. Additionally, having HIV makes it difficult to fight against cancer.
You can easily avoid getting HPV by taking the HPV vaccine. They are safe and highly effective. It can protect you against any disease caused by HPV, including cancer.
Cervical cancer is one of the significant contributors to the cancer mortality rate among women. About 90 percent of these occur in lower or middle-income countries.
Women having HIV are six times more likely to get cervical cancer than women with no HIV. And about 5 percent of all cervical cancers are HIV. However, the contribution of HIV to cervical cancer falls exceptionally on younger women.
In high-income countries, awareness programs are in place to educate and encourage women to get the HPV vaccine and regular screening and tests. In low or middle-income countries, there is limited access to these preventative measures, and cervical cancer is not recognized until it is severe or symptoms are not seen.
Therefore, limiting access to treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery results in higher death rates in these countries.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
A person may not encounter symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer. Hence regular Pap smear tests are more important.
A Pap smear test is conducted to detect early treatment of the disease using a sample of cervix cells to identify any abnormalities in the cells to determine the risk of cervical cancer.
Below mentioned are some of the common symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Vaginal bleeding: Unusual vaginal bleeding can indicate an issue in your reproductive system.
- Bleeding during sex: Bleeding during sex or after sex is not always expected and could indicate an abnormality in the cervix region.
- Bleeding between or after periods or during menopause: It is normal if you're near the menopausal period. However, postmenopausal bleeding might be an indication of uterus cancer.
- Watery discharge with a strong odor: A white, thin, and milky discharge might indicate a vaginal infection.
- Discomfort during sex: People may experience pain during or after sex in the vagina due to infection or Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).
- Pelvic pain: it can happen due to an infection.
However, consult your gynecologist to understand these symptoms better, as they may happen due to other underlying health concerns.
Risk factors for cervical cancer
Here are some of the risk factors that can increase your risk of contracting cervical cancer.
- Sexual partners: Having multiple sexual partners can increase the chances of getting STDs, leading to cervical cancer.
- Early sexual activity: Involving early in sexual activity increases the chances of getting cervical cancer.
- Usage of contraceptive pills: Using contraceptive pills during sex to avoid pregnancy may likely cause cervical cancer.
- Smoking: A person smoking might get affected by Human Papillomavirus (HPV). This can cause precancer, genital warts, and cervical cancer.
- Weakened immune system: People with weak immune systems are more likely to get cervical cancer than people with strong immune systems.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
You can’t completely avoid getting cervical cancer, but you can take precautions to lower your risk of contracting the disease.
Getting the HPV vaccine and cervical screening is the best way to protect you from getting cervical cancer.
People aged between 25-64 are advised to take regular cervical screening. It helps treat any abnormalities in the cervical cells that can become cancerous.
Children aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. It protects from all cancer caused due to HPV and other genital warts.
Therefore, based on your overall health and age, you can take preventative measures to avoid the risk of getting cervical cancer.
Consult your gynecologist to understand more about these preventative measures.
Get regular pap smear tests
A Pap smear test is your first-line defense to fight against cervical cancer. During the pelvic examination, your gynecologist will collect sample cells from the cervix and observe if there is any indication of cervical cancer.
Get HPV vaccine
HPV vaccine can protect you from any HPV infections.
Practice safe sex
Limiting the number of sexual partners, using condoms, and avoiding early sexual activity can help reduce the chances of getting cervical cancer.
Smoking weakens the immune system’s ability to fight infection. Quitting smoking makes unusual cervical changes better and lower the risk of getting cervical cancer.
Who can get the HPV vaccine?
- Preteens, including boys and girls aged 11 to 12, can get the HPV vaccine.
- Everyone aged above 26 can take the HPV vaccine if they have not taken the vaccine before.
Treatment for cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is treated in various ways. Depending on the severity and level of infiltration of the cancer. Treatment options include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.
- Surgery: The doctor removes the cancer tumor by performing an operation
- Chemotherapy: Usage of particular medicines that kill cancer cells. This treatment stops the cancer cells from growing and spreading in the body.
- Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy or radiation therapy uses high doses of radiation to kill the cancer.
prevention is better than cure. Take charge of your health and get regular cervical screening and necessary measures to reduce the risk of getting cervical cancer.
Consult your doctor or gynecologist if you encounter any of the symptoms mentioned above for early treatment and cure.
How can you cope well during cancer treatment?
A cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing experience for both patients and caregivers.
An essential step in a cancer treatment journey is to be well informed. Cancer is a challenging and complex disease that is treated in different ways.
Before starting your cancer treatment journey, consider the treatment's short- and long-term side effects and how to manage them. So, it's better to be well-informed and be prepared in advance.
A cancer diagnosis not only affects physical health and lifestyle but also considerably affects your mental health.
Sometimes, people with cancer go through great emotional turmoil, like loneliness or isolation
which makes it difficult for them to cope with the disease.
Talk to someone like your family, friends, doctor, nurse, or cancer survivor.
Let your caregivers know you need more support when you're finding it especially difficult.
There are cancer community groups to help people with cancer feel better by sharing their cancer survival journey and experience that can help them cope better on their cancer journey.
You can consult a therapist who has experience working with cancer patients. There is no shame in sharing how you're feeling and seeking help.
Consider praying if you're a spiritual person. Many find praying or spiritual guides to be helpful during cancer journeys.
You can also practice writing a diary or journal to record everything you experience during your cancer treatment journey. This will help you control your emotions, feelings, and thoughts and understand them better and improve your mental health.
This blog article offers you a fair idea about cervical cancer. However, please consult your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms related to cancer and seek immediate medical help to reduce the risk of getting cancer and improve your quality of life.
1. Who can get Cervical Cancer?
Ans: Anyone with a cervix can get cervical cancer. However, people who have an active sex life, people having HIV and other STDs, and people with HPV infections have a greater likelihood of contracting cervical cancer. It is preventable if detected early.
2. What are the symptoms of Cervical Cancer?
Ans: Cervical cancer may not show symptoms at an early stage. However, you may experience unusual vaginal bleeding, pain during sex, bleeding between or after menopause, and pelvic pain. If you encounter any of these, contact your doctor or gynecologist for treatment and cure.
3. How can I determine if I am at risk for Cervical Cancer?
Ans: Pap smear test is the most commonly used screening test for cervical cancer. It collects samples from cervical cells and looks for any abnormality which can cause cancer that can be treated.
HPV tests don't detect cancer but identify the presence of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
4. Where can I get a Pap smear done?
Ans: You can get your pap test done from the following:
- Hospitals or health centers
- General practitioner
5. What causes Cervical Cancer?
Ans: Cervical cancer is mainly caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection, which is transmitted during sex from one person to another. Taking the HPV vaccine and regular cervical screening can help reduce your risk of getting cervical cancer.