‘One woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes’

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Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Indian females with 123,907 new cases and 77,348 deaths estimated in 2020. As per report, one woman dies of cervical cancer every eight minutes. As January marks Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, health experts said that despite being preventable and curable, this cancer stands as a prominent cancer affecting women in India. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported a global incidence of 604,000 new cases and 342,000 deaths from cervical cancer in 2020, ranking it as the fourth most prevalent cancer in women.

Dr Pallavi Shukla, Associate Professor, Preventive Oncology, AIIMS, said that preparing a female with sufficient antibodies against HPV in her early years of life, may be a very good preventive strategy. “Early adolescent period- vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) along with health education on menstrual hygiene and sexual health can be a major preventive approach against this deadly cancer,” she said.

“Cervical cancer stands as a prominent cancer affecting women in India, despite being preventable and curable, necessitating a collaborative endeavor to enhance women’s awareness of primary and secondary prevention methods and ensure accessible care for both treatment and palliative measures”, said Dr Shukla, adding that the cancer usually develops slowly over time, starting with precancerous changes in the cells of the cervix before progressing to invasive cancer if left untreated.

Following a life course approach, Dr Shukla said, in dealing with this disease could have a major impact like early adolescent period- vaccination against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), reproductive period- screening of sexually active female with any of the 3 screening/early detection tests like Pap test, HPV DNA test or Visual Inspection with Acetic acid (VIA) and treatment of female of any age group diagnosed with pre cancer/ early cancer or invasive cancer of cervix.

Cervical cancer may present with symptoms like irregular bleeding, post-menopausal bleeding or increased vaginal discharge. More severe symptoms may arise at advanced stages. Sometimes, there may be no symptoms at all. Therefore, it is essential that every female who is sexually active must undergo regular screenings, said AIIMS Doctor.

“There are varieties of tests available for screening/ early detection like Papanicolaou (Pap) test and HPV DNA test which are done on samples obtained from a female’s uterine cervix. Then there are tests like VIA where the uterine cervix is visualized after application of dilute acetic acid. These tests may be done in females aged 25-65 years. Once screening is positive, the female may require further tests like colposcopy with or without biopsy. Any female identified with a pre-cancer/ cancer of cervix must be initiated into prompt treatment immediately”, said Dr BRA IRCH of AIIMS.