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Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in the female population of India. January brings upon the opportunity for us to talk about a few simple ways to avoid being diagnosed with cervical cancer at any age.


Cervical cancer develops due to changes in DNA(mutations) in cells present in the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. These changes cause unhealthy growth of these mutated cells which further progress to turn into a tumor.


Cervical Cancer and Its Causes

The presence of HPV (Human Papillomavirus), which is a sexually transmitted virus, is the leading cause of the development of cervical cancer.


But the causes of cervical cancer are not limited to the presence of HPV in the female body and also has to do with lifestyle and everyday choices one makes.


Cervical cancer most commonly develops in women belonging to the ages of 35 to 44. This type of cancer develops when the immune system fails to completely fight off the HPV present in the body which remains in the body for a long period of time and in turn converts cervical cells into cancer cells.


Understanding the formation of cancer cells in the cervix

The cells in the cervix that undergo mutation or change in DNA do not multiply themselves at the same rate as other healthy cells would.


Like while playing board games, we have a set of standard instructions that are provided to us that instruct us as to how to play the game- similarly, all cells have DNA which is like the instruction manual that instructs them on their working and different processes they have to carry out. Mutation, however, is like using the wrong instruction manual to a board game– when cells have a change in their DNA, they don’t multiply and grow at the standard rate that is healthy for the body, and unlike healthy cells, they also don’t die at the time that they are required to. They multiply at high and unhealthy rates and continue to live, further forming a mass of abnormal cells which is called a tumour. These abnormal cells are called cancerous cells.


Thus, the uncontrollable multiplication of mutated cells in the cervix causes cervical cancer.

Sometimes the tumour grows and takes control over neighbouring tissues and then detaches itself and spreads to different parts of the body.


The question of “what” causes Cervical cancer is one that remains unanswered, but it is certain that HPV plays a major role.


But the fact remains that not all individuals that possess HPV develop cervical cancer down the line, thus this leads us to assume that our surroundings and lifestyle are also potential contributing factors.


Symptoms

In the early stages of cervical cancer, a person may experience no symptoms at all. The most common symptoms are:

  • bleeding between periods

  • bleeding after sexual intercourse

  • bleeding in post-menopausal women

  • discomfort during sexual intercourse

  • vaginal discharge with a strong odor

  • vaginal discharge tinged with blood

  • pelvic pain


Risk and Contributing Factors to Diagnosis

  • Having many sexual partners increases the chances of acquiring HPV, thus may lead to the development of cervical cancer.

  • Sexual activity at an early age(during teenage years) also acts as a risk factor as it, in turn, increases the chances of catching HPV.

  • Possessing other STI’s such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, etc, can also increase the chances of getting HPV.

  • Weak Immune system: A weakened immune system and possessing HPV increases chances of developing Cervical cancer greatly.

  • Smoking: Smoking is associated with squamous cell cervical cancer. Researchers believe that smoking damages the DNA of the cervical cells and also makes the immune system weaker which in turn cannot effectively fight against infections like HPV.

  • Birth Control pills: long term use of birth control pills slightly elevates risk. According to WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, it was found that extended use of oral contraceptives increased the rate of development of cervical cancer four-folds, but only for women carrying HPV. They also can change the degree of influence that cervical cells undergo as they interact with HPV. Thus, increasing the risk of the development of cancer.

  • Socio-Economic Status: rates of development of cervical cancer are higher in households with lower income as they are not financially equipped to take preventive measures and get regular checkups done.


“What you can do?” and Prevention

  • To reduce risk, one can practise safer sex techniques by using a condom every time, one has sex, this reduces the chances of contracting STIs.

  • Cervical screening by regular pap smear tests helps in the detection of precancerous cells. Most medical organizations suggest beginning routine Pap tests at age 21 and repeating them every few years.

  • Having fewer sexual partners reduces the risk of contracting HPV, thus lowering the risk of the development of cervical cancer.

  • Delaying the first time of sexual intercourse: the younger the woman is, the higher is the risk of contracting HPV infection.

  • Stop smoking: Women who smoke and have HPV face a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than people who do not.

  • Receiving the vaccine against HPV infection.

Welcome to a new year and we hope you are enjoying the first month of the year! This January, raise awareness among your loved ones regarding cervical cancer and share some simple ways for prevention so no woman has to ever go through the pain of hearing the words,” You have cervical cancer”.

 

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