Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in India. According to NICPR, One woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes in India. India has the highest mortality rate for cervical cancer than any other country. Cervical cancer mortality rates in India are 1.6 times higher than the maternal mortality.
Indian women, especially rural women, lack awareness about cervical cancer and its symptoms. Most women do not come forward even when the symptoms are seen because they are too embarrassed. Most families in rural areas are not aware of the concept of safe sex and family planning. Although cervical cancer is completely preventable, the lack of literacy and awareness leads to the high mortality rate of cervical cancer.
What is Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer occurs in the Cervix of the body. Cervix is the long narrow opening of the uterus (womb) which opens into vagina and outside the body.
What are the causes of Cervical Cancer?
Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted virus. Most sexually active women have HPV infection once in their life. However, these infections resolve themselves. There are 100s of types of HPV but only around 40 high types of these may lead to cervical cancer.
Since, HPV infections may not cause cervical cancer there are other causes or risk factors that may lead to cervical cancer. Some of them may be:
Smoking – Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer. The incidence of cervical cancer is dependent on the duration and number of cigarettes smoked.
Sexual activity – Women who are sexually active have a risk of cervical cancer. Women who were sexually active from adolescence or an early age are at a greater risk of cervical cancer. Women who have multiple sexual partners or the women whose partners have multiple sexual partners have a risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer.
STDs – Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases like HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea or syphilis can also lead to HPV infection.
Weak immune system – Women with weak immune systems can easily develop HPV infection. Women who take immune-suppressant drugs due to organ transplant or other surgeries can develop HPV infection.
Pregnancy – Women who had multiple full term pregnancies are at a higher risk of cervical cancer than the women who did not have children. Also women who became pregnant at a younger age are more likely to develop cervical cancer.
Contraceptives – Using birth control pills for a long term increases the risk of cervical cancer. However, the decrease in usage decreases the risk.
What are the symptoms of cervical cancer?
In the early stages of cervical cancer, no symptoms are expressed. Hence, it is difficult to detect.
In later stages the symptoms may be:
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Longer, heavier menstrual periods
- Bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain in pelvic area
- Lower back pain
- Swollen or painful legs
However, these symptoms are not specific to cervical cancer. Hence, these symptoms can be diagnosed as cervical cancer only when there are no other reasons.
The next installment of this blog will cover the stages, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cervical cancer.