Cervical cancer has outstripped breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in India; it kills around 33,000 women every year in India. India alone accounts for 27% of the worldwide deaths. Sadly, there’s a chronic lack of awareness about the cancer of the cervix.
Cervical cancer is known to be spread by a virus called the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) during sexual contact. It is alarming that even the use of contraceptives do not limit the spread of the virus. Coupled with the fact that the disease remains asymptomatic for a long time till it starts invading neighbouring tissues (HPV can lay dormant in males as well until they pass it on to someone else) it is not surprising that mortality rates associated with it are high.
You are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer if:
- you are a woman over the age of 35
- you have had sex before you were 15
- have HIV
- you have had many sex partners or your partner has had many sexual contacts
- you smoke
- you have many children (due to frequent unprotected intercourse, hormonal changes, low immunity).
- you have been using birth control pills for a long time (five years or more)
HPV infection is extremely common and generally occurs soon after an individual becomes sexually active. The virus passes from person to person through genital contact, most often during vaginal and anal sex. The greatest cancer threat is from persistent infections.
Symptoms of cervical cancer
In early stages (even in the precancerous stages), cervical cancers usually do not cause symptoms. Only during the later stages of cancer is when one or more of these symptoms may be noticeable:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding between regular menstrual periods, after sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam. Menstrual periods may be heavier and may last longer. Women in their menopause may experience bleeding.
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Pain during sex
However, the above symptoms can also be caused by infections or other health problems. Hence, it is very important to consult your gynaecologist.