Cervical Cancer – Causes, Screening & Prevention

Posted on:29,Oct'19

Posted by: CancerClinics

Tags: Cervical Cancer

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An HPV infection mostly has no symptoms. However, if the HPV infection does not go away on its own and causes changes to the cells in the cervix, this usually shows up in pap smear tests. Before we move on to explaining symptoms, prevention and screening mechanisms for cervical cancer, let us try to understand reasons or causes of an HPV infection.

RISK FACTORS OF HPV INFECTION & CERVICAL CANCER

- Poor hygiene
- Poor hygiene during coitus
- Multiple sexual partners
- Partner with multiple sexual partners
- Multiple child birth (more than 5)
- Other sexually transmitted infections (such as HIV)
- Smoking

Owing to hygiene factors, the incidence of cervical cancer is higher in rural India than it is in urban India.

PREVENTION OF CERVICAL CANCER

Since, there is no genetic predisposition to cervical cancer and the cause is not unknown (the cause being HPV), it is the most preventable form of cancer. So, cervical cancer could be prevented by developing immunity for towards the infection. Hence, HPV vaccination is available.

Since cervical cancer and the other cancers in the vaginal and penile area is mainly caused due to sexual intercourse, the peak time to get infected by the HPV virus is when a person becomes sexually active. Almost 75% of all sexually active people are likely to be infected by the HPV virus during their lifetime but only a small number (<1%) may progress to cancer.

Getting vaccinated during a younger age or before becoming sexually active helps prevent getting infected by HPV.

HPV Vaccination

The types of HPV that can cause warts are not the same as the types of HPV that can cause cancers. Among the people who are infected by HPV, It is difficult to predict which will develop cancer and other diseases.

According to WHO, there are types of vaccines which protect against HPV strains (16 & 18), known to cause 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccines cannot be used to treat any person affected with HPV so the vaccination works best before HPV virus is infected or before the first sexual intercourse.

The types of vaccines available in the markets are called Gardasil and Cervarix. Both are equally effective. These vaccines have been approved to be given to girls between 9 and 26 years of age. Please check with your gynaecologist or paediatrician and get yourself and your children the appropriately vaccinated.

SCREENING FOR CERVICAL CANCER

Getting vaccination does not guarantee that cervical cancers will not happen and it is not a substitute for medical check-ups. It is also advised to have regular and periodic screening to check for HPV related cancers. It is important to remember that most women with high risk HPV don’t necessarily develop cervical cancer. It takes a longer duration of around 15 to 20 years for cervical cancer to materialize in women with healthy immune systems while in the case of women with weakened immune systems the cancer might manifest itself earlier.

Cervical cancers are usually hard to detect until they are in the advanced stages. Hence it is always recommended to get regular screening (Pap smear tests) done to check the early warning signs. Also, we need to observe a generation in order to effectively conclude that the vaccination is 100% effective. So, at this stage screening cannot be ruled out.

What is the Pap Smear Test?

In the Pap Smear Test, the gynaecologist takes a swipe of cells from the inner cervix and outer cervix using a smooth brush. This procedure does not hurt at all. It is stored in a liquid container and sent off for analyses. The analyses reveals if the cells show the existence of any infection. If it shows positive for any infection, then further investigation needs to be done to identify the exact kind of infection.

Screening Schedule

Ideally, in the first 3 yrs of sexual activity, you need an annual pap smear test done. If any one of them don’t come clear, you need to get one every year from there on. Once, the first three are clear, then you need to get one every three years until you turn 50. After the age of 50, you need pap smear tests done once every 5 years until 60. If the last two paps are clear, you do not need any more screening after the age of 60.

Pap smear tests are never done for women who are not sexually active.

Comments

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Thank you.

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