Cancer occurs when there is uncontrolled growth and spread of cells in the body. It can affect any part of the body and has a wide range of severity – from benign or non-cancerous tumours to life threatening malignancies.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix – the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Cervical cancer is the 2nd most common cancer in Indian. Every year more than one lakh new cases are being diagnosed in india. It is often caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. Cervical cancer is highly preventable through vaccination and regular screening. It is essential to identify the signs, risk factors and the various improved methods of detecting cervical cancer for early diagnosis and timely treatment intervention that could completely cures it. Month of January is considered as cervical cancer awareness month.
Identifying the signs and risk factors of cervical cancer
The most common signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include:
● Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse, between periods, or after menopause
● Pelvic pain or pain during sexual intercourse
● Abnormal vaginal discharge
● Pain in the lower back or pelvis
There are several risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing cervical cancer. These include:
● Infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV)
● Having a weakened immune system (such as from HIV or AIDS)
● Having multiple sexual partners
● Using birth control pills for a long time
Various ways of detecting cervical cancer
Pap tests: One of the most effective ways to detect cervical cancer is through regular Pap tests, also known as Pap smears. During a Pap test, a healthcare provider collects a sample of cells from the cervix and sends it to a laboratory for analysis. The laboratory looks for changes in the cells that could potentially lead to cancer. If abnormal cells are found, the healthcare provider may recommend further testing or treatment.
Liquid based cytology (LBC): In recent years, there have been improvements in Pap testing technology that have made it more accurate and efficient. One such improvement is the liquid-based cytology (LBC) method, which involves collecting cells from the cervix in a liquid medium rather than on a traditional glass slide. This method has been shown to be more sensitive in detecting abnormal cells and has a lower rate of false negatives compared to the traditional Pap test.
HPV test: In addition to the Pap test, there are several other methods for detecting cervical cancer. One of these is the HPV test, which looks for the presence of the HPV viral DNA in the cells collected from the cervix. The HPV test can be used alone or in combination with a Pap test. It is particularly useful for women over the age of 30, as the risk of developing cervical cancer increases with age.
Colposcopy: Another method for detecting cervical cancer is the colposcopy which is a procedure that uses a microscope with a light attached (called a colposcope) to examine the cervix in more detail. During a colposcopy, the healthcare provider may also take a biopsy, which is a small sample of tissue that is sent to a laboratory for analysis. A biopsy can help confirm the presence of abnormal cells or cancer.
Ways that reduce the risk of cervical cancer
In addition to these methods for detecting cervical cancer, there are also several ways to reduce the risk of developing the disease. One of the most effective ways is through vaccination. The HPV vaccines namely Guardasil is available to both males and females and helps to protect against the high risk variants of HPV that cause most cases of cervical cancer. The vaccine is most effective when given to adolescents in the age group between 9-26 years in particular, before they become sexually active.
Other ways to reduce the risk of cervical cancer include practising safe sex, avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption, and maintaining a healthy weight. It is also important for women to undergo regular screening, such as Pap tests and HPV tests, to detect any abnormal cells early on.
Cervical cancer is a preventable disease that can be detected early through regular screening and vaccination. Improved methods for detecting cervical cancer, such as the LBC method and the HPV test, have made it easier for healthcare providers to identify and treat the disease. By following these prevention and screening recommendations, women can greatly reduce their risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer awareness month # January 2023 theme
“Ending Cervical cancer within a few generations”
Authored by Dr. Kolluru SaiKrishna, Associate Consultant – Medical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre Ongole.