January 17, 2022
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Indian women.
Again, in India, this cancer is more prevalent among women living in rural areas than those living in urban regions.
Despite being one of the most common cancers, cervical cancer is also one of those cancers whose risk can be easily brought down.
Now, what are the measures you can take to reduce your cervical cancer risk?
Before learning the measures, it is important to know about the factors that increase one’s cervical cancer risk.
Factors That Increase the Risk of Cervical Cancer
There are several factors responsible for the increased risk of cervical cancer among women; the key risk factors are listed below:
1. Chronic HPV infection: Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection is a common infection of the reproductive tract in women. Sexual contact is a common mode of transmission for this virus.
In most cases, HPV infections and precancerous lesions disappear on their own. However, there are chances of these HPV infections becoming chronic and the precancerous lesions proceeding to form invasive cervical cancer.
2. Weaker Immune System: Having a weaker immune system is another risk factor. Studies have found that cervical cancer can take up to 15-20 years in women with a stronger immune system, while it only takes 5-10 years in those with a weaker immune system.
Having HIV or other immunocompromised diseases can also increase the risk of cervical cancer.
3. Smoking: According to studies, cervical cancer is two times more likely to develop in women who smoke. Smoking also lowers immunity, which is another risk factor.
4. Age: Cervical cancer risk begins during the late teens and goes on up to the mid-60s. Women between the ages of 35 and 44 have a higher risk of developing cervical cancer.
5. Family History of Cervical Cancer: Having a family member or close relative who has been diagnosed with cervical cancer is also a risk factor for this cancer type.
If you have a family history of cervical cancer, you should talk to your doctor to understand your risks and the measures that help you reduce your cervical cancer risk.
Other risk factors for cervical cancer include having multiple sexual partners, prolonged usage of oral contraceptives, poor personal hygiene, having a history of chlamydia infection, unhealthy diet, etc.
Importance of Regular Screening
It takes about 10-15 years for HPV infection to cause precancerous lesions, and finally, cancer. Before showing as true cancer, the changes could be minimal, moderate, or severe. This provides women with adequate time to be checked for early cancer symptoms and treated as needed.
There are different screening and prevention methods available that can help you bring down your cervical cancer risk:
1. Vaccination: Many assume that the vaccination directly prevents cervical cancer formation. However, this vaccination, also known as HPV vaccination, works by preventing chronic HPV infections. By doing so, it helps in reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
Girls between the ages of 9 and 26 can receive these immunisations. These immunisations are administered in three doses within six months (0, 1 or 2, 6-month schedule).
Depending on the risk, women between the ages of 27 and 45 can also receive the HPV vaccine after discussing their risk of new HPV infections and the potential benefits of vaccination with their doctor.
It has been discovered that these immunisations can prevent cervical cancer in nearly 90% of women. Nevertheless, this does not imply that women can skip their screening.
2. Screening: Women who appear to be healthy and show no signs of cervical cancer are subjected to screening. If HPV infections or precancerous lesions are discovered during screening, necessary consultations and suitable medical interventions will follow. There are two methods available for cervical cancer screening:
- Pap Test: Pap test, also known as Pap smear or liquid-based cytology, involves gathering cell samples from the cervix using a specialised instrument called Ayre’s spatula. This can also be done as part of a routine gynaecological examination. This test can be paired with an HPV test, in which women are screened for HPV strains associated with cervical cancer. Women should have their first Pap test when they are 21 years old. If the findings of the initial test are normal, the doctor may recommend the next test after 2-3 years. The Pap test is combined with the HPV test in women aged 30 and up, and if the findings are normal, the next test may be recommended after five years. Women over 65 years may stop taking Pap tests upon consulting a gynaecologist, especially if the findings of previous tests have been normal or if they have had a hysterectomy.
- Colposcopy: Colposcopy is the most effective screening procedure for cervical cancer. During this procedure, a specialised tool, called a colposcope, is used to obtain a lighted and magnified view of the cervix lining. This test allows doctors to examine the cervix more closely and detect any suspicious abnormalities. The doctor may treat the lesion during the same visit or perform a biopsy, depending on the type of lesion.
Like any other cancer, cervical cancers are fought best when detected early. Regular screening is one way to catch cervical cancers in their early stages. These screening tests are both simple and cost-effective.
HCG urges every woman out there to opt for regular screening and timely vaccination, as these are the most effective ways to put oneself a step ahead of cervical cancer.