Things every woman should keep in mind about cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix (a female organ), the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. It is a sexually transmitted infection, various strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) play a role in causing most cervical cancer.

When exposed to HPV, a woman’s immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In a small group of women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.

Rather than suddenly turning cancerous, these cells first develop into pre-cancerous cells that then turn into cancer. By getting regular screenings such as a Pap smear test, women can lower their chances of developing cervical cancer.
Years ago, cervical cancer was the number one cause of cancer-related death for women. Death rates from cervical cancer have fallen by more than 50 percent in the past four decades as women have learned more about their risk and as increasing numbers early detection and treatment has improved dramatically over the last 40 years, reducing the mortality rate.

However, because this cancer often comes with no early warning signs, women should protect their health by learning few important things about cervical cancer:

  • Cervical cancer is only present in women.
  • It occurs most often in women who are over the age of 40.
  • Approximately 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year.
  • The most common cause is human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted virus.
  • Cervical cancer typically has no symptoms in early stages.
  • Most of the time a woman’s immune system can fight off the HPV infection before it becomes cancerous, but a small number of women with HPV can develop cervical cancer.
  • Risk factors include: HPV, HIV, age, smoking, having sexual intercourse before age 18 and having many sexual partners.
  • Cervical cancer may cause bleeding, but many women experience irregular periods so this may not seem unusual. Often, the disease does not cause pain or other obvious warning signs, making screening that much more important. Women who suspect a problem should not ignore their symptoms and seek a medical evaluation.
  • Women with any of the following risk factors may require more frequent cervical cancer screening than recommended in the routine screening guidelines:
    Women who are infected with HIV, Women who are immunocompromised (such as those who have received solid organ transplants and Women previously treated high grade precancerous cells of the cervix or cervical cancer.
  • So all women 21 and older should get regular exams and screenings.
  • Because various strains of HPV can cause cervical cancer, two ‘HPV vaccines’ were developed to protect females against strains that lead to vulvar, vaginal and cervical cancer.
  • Treatment for cervical cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, biological therapy or interferon.
    “If caught early, cervical cancer has a high survival rate,” “Abnormal cells seen on Pap tests are precancerous [rather than cancerous] the vast majority of the time.”

“January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.”
“In fact, the more women know about the disease, the greater their chances of being able to prevent it.”

By – Assistant Professor – Swati Sharma
MLT Department
Uttaranchal (P.G.) College Of Bio-Medical Sciences & Hospital