Mumbai: cervical cancer is one of the most frequent gynecological cancers among Indian women even though it is an easily avoidable malignancy. As per WHO reports, in India, approximately 45,000 women died from cervical cancer in 2019. To tackle this easily avoidable incidence in cervical cancer, oncologists advised that there is an urgent need to raise public awareness about the need of routine screening by doing Pap smears. and HPV testing along with HPV vaccination to prevent cervical cancer and reduce morbidity and mortality.
Highlighting the risk factors one must be privy of, to avoid developing cervical cancer, Dr Meghal Sanghavi, Consultant, Surgical Oncology, SRV Hospitals said, ”Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer prevalent in Indian women. It is more commonly seen in rural areas due to poor hygiene, lack of awareness, and insufficient screening. Some factors that may increase your risk of developing cervical cancer are early sexual activity, having multiple partners or a sexual partner with multiple partners. Additionally, smoking has been linked to an increasing risk of cancer. People with diseases that lower immunity such as HIV/AIDS or those who have undergone a transplant may also be at risk.
HPV is the most common cause of cervical cancer in women. Experts recommend that regardless of vaccination status, everyone should be tested for cervical cancer. Explaining how an HPV infection affects women, Dr Rana Choudhary, Consultant Obstetrician & Gynecologist, Apollo Spectra said, “In most cases, a woman’s immune system stops HPV from doing any harm after exposure. Cervical cancer, however, is brought on by extended persistent infection with high-risk HPV strains in some women because the virus is not naturally removed by the immune system. The most common cause of getting HPV infection is by sexual route.
Commenting on the HPV-related risk factors, Dr Suhas Aagre, Oncologist and Hemato-Oncologist, Asian Cancer Institute said, ”HPV-related risk factors are early onset sexual activity, multiple sexual partners, high-risk sexual partners, and sexually transmitted diseases while HPV unrelated risk factors are smoking and OC pill use.
Since, in most cases, cervical cancer lays dormant in the early stages and shows signs of malignancy when the problem has spiraled out of hand, routine testing is an essential life savior. Resonating this preventive measure, Dr Sanghavi added, “Unfortunately, cervical cancer may be asymptomatic in its early stages and shows symptoms only after it has progressed to a point requiring complex treatment. This emphasizes the need for routine screening to detect cancer at an early stage.” Some common signs of cervical cancer include bleeding between periods, post-coital bleeding, postmenopausal haemorrhage, and abnormal vaginal discharge.”
Agreeing with Dr Sanghvi, Dr Choudhary advised, “As cervical cancer has a long precancerous stage that lasts for around 10 to 15 years, it can be easily diagnosed with a simple PAP smear test and early diagnosis of the disease is possible. In general, a PAP test is advised every three years, and if paired with an HPV test in sexually active women over 21 years old till 65 years, the interval between testing periods can be extended to five years.”
Further elaborating on the measures to prevent or manage HPV infection, Dr Sanghvi concluded, “Timely screening will help prevent cancer by detecting the abnormal cells. One should have an HPV vaccination to lower their chances of developing cervical cancer. Ages nine to 14 are recommended for vaccination as the vaccines work best when given at a younger age, especially before a female is sexually active. Those under the age of 26 can also get inoculated with a catch-up vaccination. Vaccines can be administered in the form of two doses to children between nine to 14 of age and via three doses for females of 14 to 26 ages.”