Cervical cancer has become one of the major causes of death in women. According to WHO’s Cancer Report, women suffer more from cervix, breast and ovarian cancers in India. It is usually not possible to know why a person develops cancer and another doesn't. However, certain lifestyle choices can reduce the chances of contracting cancer, including cervical cancer.
Cervix of a woman connects her uterus with her vagina. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal or precancerous cells start to develop here. The human cervix has two parts, ectocervix and endocervix. The former is pink in color (if healthy) and is covered in flat thin squamous cells. The latter is the cervical canal and is made up of columnar cells. The area where endocervix and ectocervix meet is the transformation zone, the most likely region where abnormal and precancerous cells can develop.
The leading cause of cervical cancer is Human Papillomavirus (HPV), found in about 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases. There are over 100 different types of HPV which are considered low risk and do not result in cervical cancer. The high-risk cancer types are HPV-16 and HPV-18 and if a woman has persistent HPV infection then she must see a doctor immediately as they are at a greater risk of developing cervical cell abnormalities.
Precancerous cervical cells do not cause any prominent symptoms, which is why regular screening through Pap and HPV tests is recommended. They can catch precancerous cells early and prevent the development of cervical cancer. Widespread use of the Pap test led to dramatic declines in deaths from cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine can reduce risk of cervical cancer as well. HPV causes most cervical cancers. Adolescents are not getting HPV vaccination as often as other recommended vaccines, even though it is safe and effective. Look for these signs to know if you have cervical cancer or not:
• Abnormal bleeding that includes: bleeding between regular menstrual periods, bleeding after sexual intercourse, bleeding after menopause, bleeding after douching and bleeding after a pelvic exam
• Pelvic pain that is not related to menstrual cycle
• Unusual or heavy discharge that is watery, thick or foul smelling
• Pain during urination as well as increased urinary frequency
These symptoms can also be a result of some other condition, so please see your doctor to know what it is.
Girls who started having sex before the age of 16 and before their period, those who have been taking birth control pills for more than five years, women with weak immunity, women who have multiple sexual partners and women with existing STD’s are at a higher risk of contracting cervical cancer.
Other than Pap and HPV tests, women can opt for colonoscopy to check for cervical cancer. In this case, the doctor will stain your cervix with a harmless dye or acetic acid to improve visibility of cells. After that the doctor will use a microscope to magnify your cervix by 8 to 15 times to look for unusual cells.
One more method is the Loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP) wherein the doctor uses an electrified loop of wire to take a sample tissue of your cervix for a better look.
If you don't treat an HPV infection it can cause the cells to turn into cancer by forming into a tumour over time.