Cervical Cancer, preventable and yet a serious public health risk in India

Once thought to be a major health risk for rural health and impoverished communities, cervical cancer has also hit the streets of affluence in India. With growing number of young people  migrating to big cities, away from the confines of their families, in search of prosperity, has resulted in greater expression of independence and sexual freedom.

What is Cervical Cancer?

Is the result of abnormal changes of cells lining the cervix, lower portion of the uterus(womb). It is caused by high risk strains of HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), a slow growing and very preventable disease.

Alarming related statistics:

1. No: 1 cause of cancer related death in women in India

2. Takes lives of 8 women in India per hour

3. 1.3 Lakh new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed in India every year, nearly one fourth of world’s deaths due to cervical cancer.

4.  More than 74,000 women in India die of cervical cancer per year

5. Women in India have 2.5% lifetime risk to get cervical cancer which is double the risk compared to the worldwide data of 1.3%

Symptoms:

Early Stage of the disease: usually no symptoms (hence important for regular periodic gyn check ups

Late Stage symptoms include pelvic pain and bleeding during or after sexual intercourse. Abnormal vaginal discharge and light bleeding outside of the usual menses may also be a sign.

Major Risk factors:

1. unprotected sex ( use condom even though not absolute prevention)

2. sexual promiscuity( minimize number of sexual partners)

3. early age full term childbirth (<25 years of age)

4. Multiple full term childbirths

5. Prolonged use of Oral Contraceptives ( >5 years)

6. Smoking

7. Impaired Immune System

8. Co infection with HIV

Preventable Measures:

In addition to reducing/avoiding above mentioned risk factors,

1. Regular periodic gyn check ups with pap smears and HPV screening every 2-3 years is strongly encouraged, to initiate at the age when sexual activity begins. Discuss with your family physician or OB/GYN for further recommendations.

2. In addition, recent vaccine technology has made available GARDISIL, vaccination against high risk strains of HPV. It is given between the ages of 9 and 26 years. It is given as a series of 3 vaccinations at 0, 2, and 6 months. Please discuss with your family physician or your OB/GYN for further details and recommendations.

Be proactive, Be informed, Be Safe. Encourage discussions with your family physician or your OB/GYN.

Feel free to add your doubts in the comments  section below.