Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in females in India with more than 1 lakh new cases occurring every year and this is one fourth of the cases occurring in the world. Thankfully, this incidence has gone down a fit in last few years because of the change in lifestyle, screening. The peak age is though between 55 to 59 years, it does occur in women of younger age group as well.
The risk factors are a persistent infection by a virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in almost 85 -90 % cancers. Other risk factors are women having early age of sexual intercourse, early age of first birth, multiple children or abortions, having multiple sexual partners, and poor genital hygiene.
As the major cause is HPV infection, it becomes important to understand how this infection causes cancer? The virus causes changes in the lining of the cervix, or the mouth of the uterus,, which in usual circumstances are removed or cleared by the body immunity. Now when the body’s immune system goes weak, the infection persists/stays and this causes further changes in this lining. These changes take upto 5 to 20 years to convert to cancer.
Now the good news is that, because the cancer is caused by an infection, it easily preventable and we have a very effective vaccine to prevent this infection right from the age of 9 years. This vaccine when given to girls of age 9-15 years, prevents them from this HPV infection, later in their life, thus preventing cervical cancer. Though the recommended age of vaccination is 9-15 years, this can be given in females before they become sexually active even after 15 years if they did not receive it earlier, with good efficacy.
Also interesting to know is that we have a very simple test available with us to know if the cervix is healthy or infected or having any changes causing cancer in it.This is called PAPS test and is done in OPD only, in a painless manner. The test results can help doctors to pick up persistent infections and changes and then act accordingly to prevent the development of cancer cervix.
Very early cancers can be picked up by this test in stages when it is 100% curable. Yes, u read it write, 100% curable.Cervical cancer can be very easily prevented, and treated with excellent cure rates if detected in early stages.
January is dedicated as the Cervical cancer awareness month with the aim to spread awareness, so that we can completely eliminate this disease from the world. As a huge burden of these cases is from India, we can play a very important part in this fight.
So please join us in this fight, stay aware, get your daughters/sisters vaccinated, get PAPS test done, and we will surely win this battle!!!!