BENGALURU / January 10, 2023: Women with early-stage cervical cancer can go for treatment options like conization and trachelectomy that can preserve their fertility if they wish to have children. If already pregnant when diagnosed in early stages, they can continue with the pregnancy and deliver by C-section. However, those suffering from late-stage cervical cancer may have to opt for IVF if they wish to become pregnant. This was said by Dr. Vidya V Bhat, Medical Director, RadhaKrishna Multispecialty Hospital, Bengaluru, to mark the ongoing Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.
The doctor said: “Hysterectomy is the preferred surgical treatment in cervical cancer from Stage 1 to Stage 2a. That is when the cancer is limited to the cervix and uterus only. Uterus-saving surgeries like Conization and Radical Trachelectomy can be done only in early stages.”
Cervical cancer is highly preventable and curable if caught early. Nearly all cervical cancers can be prevented by HPV vaccination and routine cervical cancer screening. Yet, there is no popular acceptance of immunization among women in India, with the immunization rate hovering below 10%.
“HPV vaccination is a safe and effective way to prevent cervical cancer. Because HPV is transmitted sexually, the HPV vaccine offers optimum protection when given before a person becomes sexually active. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended for girls starting at age 11 or 12 years. HPV vaccination is recommended up to age 26 years. Some adults between 27-45 years of age, who are not already vaccinated, may get the HPV vaccine after talking with their doctor about their risk of new HPV infections,” said Dr. Vidya V Bhat.
She added: “Routine cervical cancer screening with HPV test and PAP smear test is also an important way to prevent cervical cancer. Because HPV vaccination doesn’t protect against all HPV types that can cause cervical cancer, one should get oneself screened at regular intervals. It is recommended that women undergo PAP smear test once every 3 years and HPV DNA test every 5 years.”
The incidence of cervical cancer in India is 18 per 100,000 population, accounting for 18.3% of all cancers in the country. It peaks between 35-65 years of age. Women from poor socio-economic status are especially affected, according to the doctor. Symptoms of cervical cancer include watery or bloody vaginal discharge which may be heavy, continuous and foul smelling, vaginal bleeding after intercourse or between periods, and post-menopausal bleeding.
Recounting the various challenges in treatment of cervical cancer, Dr. Vidya V Bhat said that most women in India are neither immunized nor screened for the disease. The condition is especially prevalent among women of low socio-economic status, and most of them come for treatment at an advanced stage. Healthcare providers in rural areas are not properly trained about different screening methods. In addition, treatment for advanced stage of the disease is available only at tertiary centers, which are not easily accessible for most women in the country.
Dr. Vidya V Bhat added: “Infection from HPV, which is a group of 150 related viruses, is the most important risk factor of cervical cancer. Women who become sexually active at a young age, especially before 18 years of age, and those who are using oral contraceptives for a long time are also susceptible to this disease.”