In a nutshell
Early detection of Cervical Cancer gives you a higher chance of survival - Get your pap smear done as soon as you are sexually active.
Find out all about Cervical Cancer and the risk factors, symptoms, the vaccination and the cure.
Cervical cancer is the cancer of the lower part of the Uterus (the cervix). Cervical cancer is a common form of cancer of the female reproductive system.
The Human Papilloma virus is the virtually the cause of cervical cancer but many factors have been implicated as risk factors for development of cervical cancer.
Human Papillomaviruses include over 100 types of viruses, many of which are very common and are transmitted from one person to another through skin-to-skin genital contact, and may lead to genital warts and cervical cancer.
Out of the different types of HPV, types 16 and 18 are most commonly associated with 70% of all cervical cancers, and types 6 and 11 are the most common types found in 90% of genital warts. HPV is also associated with vaginal, vulvar, penile and anal cancers.
Various other risk factors are also known to be associated with the development of cervical cancer.
Early sex life
Early start of sexual activity and multiple sexual partners is thought to increase the chances of getting infected with HPV.
In addition smoking is also thought to increase the risk of cervical cancer.
Women who tend to have multiple pregnancies are also at a high risk of cervical cancer.
Low socio-economic status is responsible for decreased access to healthcare services and lower rate of screening procedures. As a result, a high rate of cervical cancer is seen in women from low socio-economic background.
In addition, a poor diet may also indirectly increase the risk of cervical cancer. When women with poor nutrition get infected with HPV, the body’s ability to fight the infection is reduced. Similarly, a weak immune system significantly increases the chances of cervical cancer.
The average age of women who are diagnosed with cervical cancer is 50-55 years. However, younger women can also develop cervical cancer. In Singapore, cervical cancer has been reported to affect females as young as 15-19 years old.
Before the development of cervical cancer the cervical cells undergo certain pre-cancerous changes. Commonly, during this period no symptoms are produced, and it is during this stage that the pre-cancerous changes can be detected at an early stage by the screening test called a Pap smear.
The Pap smear is a quick, simple, non-invasive screening test for the early diagnosis of precancerous changes in the cervix. It involves using a soft brush to take a sample of the cells from the cervix. The cells are then examined to detect any changes in the cells of the cervix. The Pap smear is very important since it can detect the changes in cervical cells before the development of cervical cancer.
A regular screening through Pap smear is effective in early diagnosis of cervical cancer. It is believed that all women from 20-29 years of should have a Pap test every year, and women above 30 years should have a Pap test every 2-3 years if they have had three normal tests in a row.
The symptoms of cervical cancer include
The diagnosis of cervical cancer involves an initial Pap smear test and pelvic examination followed by a biopsy. Depending on the stage of cancer the treatment may involve surgery and radiotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy.
Increased awareness and widespread use of screening practices have been effective in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer in the developed countries. As is rightly said that “prevention is better than cure”, it is essential to pick up cervical cancer early and thus it is very important for women to undergo routine and regular screening tests.
Recent advances have led to the development of a vaccine, which protects against four types of HPV - 6, 11, 16, and 18 - which are known to be involved in the development of cervical cancer. The vaccine should ideally be administered before exposure to the virus although it can also benefit women who have been exposed to HPV.
The vaccine is considered to be most effective if it is administered in girls and women between 9 to 26 years. Since the highest prevalence of HPV infection occurs following beginning of sexual activity, the vaccination is recommended in young girls before they become sexually active.
Educating the public to increase awareness is essential to improve the acceptance of vaccination. Though the vaccine has been effective in protecting against certain types of HPV, it does not protect against all types of the virus. As a result, vaccination does not completely prevent cervical cancer, and therefore cannot substitute screening tests.
Furthermore, women who are already exposed to the virus are not believed to receive complete protection against cervical cancer. Therefore, in addition to vaccination, routine and regular screening tests are equally important and essential for ensuring prevention of cervical cancer.