Cervical cancer remains a significant global concern. As we delve into the intricacies of this disease, it becomes imperative to understand its origins, risk factors, detection methods, and the developments made in its prevention and treatment.
Causes and Risk Factors
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
One in three men worldwide are infected with genital human papillomavirus-WHO
A leading cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) which is not uncommon among people specifically young adults. The majority of HPV infections in men and women are asymptomatic. It has been documented that there is a worldwide average prevalence of 31% for any HPV infection and 21% for high-risk HPV strains. Among the HPV genotypes, HPV-16 stood out as the most common, with a prevalence of 5%, followed by HPV-6 at 4%. However, two of these types (HPV 16 and HPV 18) cause about 70 out of 100 (70%) of all cervical cancer cases.
Smoking and Other Lifestyle Factors
Apart from the HPV infection, lifestyle choices such as smoking contribute to the risk of developing not only cervical cancer but many other cancers also. As per WHO “Tobacco use is responsible for 25% of all cancer deaths globally”. Exploring these elements brings to light the need for holistic health practices.
Women living with HIV are 6 times more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to women without HIV.WHO
Symptoms and Early Detection of Cervical Cancer
Silent Nature of The Disease
The majority of sexually active individuals will likely contract HPV at some stage in their lives, often without exhibiting any symptoms. Typically, the immune system successfully eliminates HPV from the body. However, persistent infection with high-risk strains of HPV can lead to the formation of abnormal cells, potentially progressing to cancer.
Early Detection of Cervical Cancer
You should always report to your doctor immediately if any of the following things occur.
- unusual bleeding between periods, after menopause, or after sexual intercourse
- increased or foul-smelling vaginal discharge
- symptoms like persistent pain in the back, legs, or pelvis
- weight loss, fatigue, and loss of appetite
- vaginal discomfort
- swelling in the legs.
Regular Check-ups and Pap Smears
When HPV infection sticks around in the cervix (the lower part of the uterus), it can lead to cervical cancer if not treated. This kind of infection is responsible for about 95% of cervical cancers.
Usually, it takes around 15 to 20 years for abnormal cells to turn into cancer.
Regular check-ups and Pap smears emerge as critical tools in the early detection arsenal. Empowering individuals with knowledge of these preventive measures is paramount.
Stages of Cervical Cancer
Overview of Staging
A cancer stage indicates how far cancer has spread in the body, particularly whether it has migrated from its original site to other areas. Understanding the stage of cervical cancer is crucial for determining the most effective treatment approach.
Treatment Options for Each Stage
Various treatment options exist for cervical cancer. Collaboratively, you and your cancer care team will formulate a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs, which might encompass multiple approaches. Several factors will influence this plan, including the cancer stage, your overall well-being, and your personal preferences. Your treatment strategy will outline details about your cancer, treatment objectives, available options, potential side effects, and the anticipated duration of treatment.
Prevention and Vaccination
The introduction of HPV vaccination has been a game-changer in cervical cancer prevention.
As of 2024, there are 6 HPV vaccines available worldwide. They all protect against the high-risk HPV types 16 and 18, which are the main culprits behind most cervical cancers. These vaccines have proven to be safe and effective in preventing HPV infection and cervical cancer.
It’s recommended that HPV vaccines be given as a priority to all girls aged 9–14 years before they start having sexual activity. The vaccine can be administered in either 1 or 2 doses.
Additionally, some countries have decided to vaccinate boys as well. This is done further to reduce the spread of HPV in the community and to prevent HPV-related cancers in men.
Lifestyle Changes for Prevention
Beyond vaccinations, lifestyle changes contribute significantly to prevention. Promoting awareness of these measures empowers individuals in their journey towards cervical health.
Other important ways to prevent HPV infection include:
- being a non-smoker or stopping smoking
- using condoms
- voluntary male circumcision.
Cervical Cancer In India
“The World Health Organisation has given us targets to accomplish by 2030, which include screening at least 70% of women for cervical cancer and vaccinating at least 90% of girls before their 15th birthday,”-WHO
The Indian government has introduced screening programs for oral, breast, and cervical cancers nationwide. India is dedicated to achieving the World Health Organization’s goal of eradicating cervical cancer.
On February 1, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman revealed the government’s intention to prioritize vaccination against cervical cancer for girls aged 9 to 14 in the Interim Budget 2024.
Surgical interventions play a pivotal role in treating cervical cancer. Understanding the nuances of different surgical approaches sheds light on their respective benefits.
Radiation therapy, a cornerstone in cancer treatment, holds specific relevance in cervical cancer. Unraveling its mechanisms and applications provides insights into its efficacy.
As a systemic treatment, chemotherapy complements other modalities. Delving into the specifics of chemotherapy in cervical cancer treatment enhances understanding.
Community Initiatives and Awareness Campaigns
Non-profit organizations play a pivotal role in driving awareness and support. Spotlighting their efforts showcases the collective impact of community initiatives.
Importance of Public Education
Educating the public on cervical cancer is a shared responsibility. Awareness campaigns contribute to early detection, prevention, and destigmatization of the disease.
In the tapestry of women’s health, cervical cancer forms a significant threat. Navigating through its causes, detection methods, and treatment options illuminates the path toward a future where cervical cancer is not just treatable but preventable.
Is cervical cancer preventable?
Yes, cervical cancer is largely preventable through vaccination, regular screenings, and lifestyle changes.
How often should one undergo Pap smears?
According to the CDC, women between the ages of 21 and 65 should get regular Pap smears. The Mayo Clinic recommends repeating Pap testing every three years for women ages 21 to 65.
What is the role of genetics in cervical cancer risk?
While genetics can contribute, most cases are linked to environmental factors, particularly HPV.
Are there support groups for cervical cancer patients?
Yes, many support groups and online communities offer emotional support and information for individuals dealing with cervical cancer.
How effective is immunotherapy in treating cervical cancer?
Immunotherapy in which HPV oncoproteins are targeted has been investigated as a new treatment for cervical cancer and it has shown great promise. An advantage of this treatment is that it specifically targets dysplastic precancerous and malignant cervical epithelial cells that express HPV oncoproteins