Article by Dr. Vijay Agarwal, Lead Consultant – Medical Oncology, Aster RV Hospital
Cervical cancer, one of the most prevalent malignancies in women, develops in the tissues of the cervix – the region in women that links the vagina to the uterus. The good news is that cervical cancer is often a slow-growing malignancy that may be easily diagnosed in its pre-cancerous stages with routine PAP testing and other screening procedures. Also, it is important to note that cervical cancer is roughly twice as common in women who smoke and have HPV as in non-smokers.
Changes (mutations) in the DNA of healthy cells in the cervix cause cervical cancer. Healthy cells develop and replicate at a certain pace before dying at a predetermined period. The mutations cause the cells to grow and duplicate in an uncontrollable manner, yet they do not die. The aberrant cells that are accumulating create a bulk (tumour). Cancer cells can infiltrate adjacent tissues and break out from a tumour to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Other risk factors include HIV, Chlamydia, smoking, obesity, a family history of cervical cancer, a low-fiber diet, birth control pills, having three full-term pregnancies, and being under the age of 17 when you first became pregnant.
Typical cervical cancer symptoms include- atypical bleeding between periods, post sex, or after menopause, a difference in vaginal discharge than usual, pelvic pain, a need to pee more frequently, and pain when urinating.
Cervical cancer is often curable if detected early. Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy are the four major therapies. The goal of surgery is to get rid of as much cancer as possible. Surgery to remove the cervix and other pelvic organs may be required if the cancer is more extensive. Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses chemicals to destroy cancer cells all throughout the body. Radiation therapy is a form of cancer treatment that involves the use of high-energy X-ray beams to kill cancer cells. Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a newer drug that prevents the formation of new blood vessels, which aids cancer growth and survival. Precancerous cells in your cervix can be treated if discovered by your doctor. See what measures you may use to prevent these cells from growing cancerous.
What Does a Pap Test Result Mean? A normal result suggests that no cell alterations on your cervix were discovered. This is positive news, but you will still require Pap exams in the future. Uncertain test findings are prevalent, such as equivocal, inconclusive, or ASC-US. An abnormal Pap test might indicate that you have cancer in rare situations.
A positive HPV test indicates that you have an HPV type linked to cervical cancer. This does not necessarily imply that you have cervical cancer, but it might be a red flag. To identify the next step, the precise HPV type can be determined. Your doctor may advise you to wait five years before having another screening test.
Steps to lower the risk:
Consult your doctor and undergo regular PAP tests every three years starting at the age of 21.
As a precaution, get an HPV vaccination. These vaccinations help in the prevention of cervical cancer and pre-cancers. Some HPV vaccinations are also approved to help prevent other forms of cancer, as well as anal and genital warts.
After the age of 30, undergo a PAP and HPV test every five years, as advised.
Talk to your doctor about stopping smoking if you smoke.
Consume a nutritious, well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.