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World Cancer Day on 4th February: All you need to know about cervical cancer

You may experience symptoms like foul smelling vaginal discharge if you have cervical cancer. © Shutterstock

Dr Sampada Dessai, Gynaecologic oncologist Sir HN Reliance hospital, Mumbai, help you understand about the causes and treatment of cervical cancer.

Written by Editorial Team |Updated : February 2, 2019 4:01 PM IST

Do you know that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is the fourth most frequent cancer in women around the world. The WHO estimated that there were 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer in the year 2018 representing 16.5 per cent of all female cancers. Unlike other cancers, cervical cancer can be prevented. Effective screening, early diagnosis and treatment programmes can ensure high cure rates for cervical cancer. Here are few important things which you shouldn't miss.

HPV can cause cervical cancer

"99 per cent of cervical cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) and over 100 different strains of HPV are known 12 of which are known to cause cancer. HPV is usually transmitted through sexual contact. Most HPV infections clear on their own over a period of time. But sometimes it may persist for a very long time and that can lead to cancer. This process does not occur overnight but it takes about 5-15 years to develop into cancer," says Dr Sampada Dessai, Gynaecologic oncologist Sir HN Reliance hospital, Mumbai.

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Screening to detect precancerous changes

"Before cancer develops HPV causes certain changes in the cell known as precancerous changes. This precancerous changes can be detected by screening tests. The screening tests that are available are pap smear and HPV DNA testing (it can be an alternative to the Pap test as it provides a highly effective screening device to identify the presence of HPV). It is recommended that every woman should undergo a screening test starting from age of 21 years till 65 years. If one is undergoing only Pap test for screening than this test is to be done once in 3 years. If HPV DNA test is done along with it then the test can be done in once in 5 years," explains Dr Dessai.

Recognizing the subtle signs of cervical cancer

"Women may not show any symptoms when cervical cancer is in its early and in a precancerous stage. Hence, opting for screening tests is vital which can help detect it in an early stage disease. As the disease progresses, the chances of getting cured may reduce significantly," highlights Dessai.

The usual symptoms of cervical cancer include:

Bleeding after sexual intercourse.

Bleeding on touching the cervix during an examination

Foul smelling vaginal discharge

Leg pain

Most of these symptoms appear once the disease advances.

Cervical cancer treatment

Cervical cancer is mostly seen in younger women in the age group of 35. Though, It can also occur in older women. "The treatment of precancerous lesions include removal of only the affected part of cervix or removal of the uterus with the cervix. Early stage cancer can be treated with the help of surgery or radiotherapy (During radiation therapy, high-energy x-rays are used to kill cancer cells). Once cancer progresses, chemotherapy along with radiotherapy may be required to tackle it. The number of radiotherapy and chemotherapy may vary from person to person. So, you should speak to your doctor about the number of radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions you may require. Owing to the enhancement in therapy, the cure rates even for advanced stage disease have now improved and the side effects of therapy have minimized," says Dr Dessai.

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