28 Aug 2008, 0008 hrs IST, DIVYA KAPOOR,TNN

All about cervical cancer
The killer disease (Getty Images)
The exit of British television celebrity Jade Goody from the reality show Big Boss was a shocker. But what surprised most was the revelation of the fatal disease – cervical cancer that Goody was detected with. The word 'Cervic Cancer' since then has been googled infinite times (according to Google Trends) in the past one week thus revealing the immense curiosity, coupled with a lack of awareness about the cancer.

Not many know that India, with a population of 365.71 million has women aged between 15 years and above who stand at the risk of developing cervical cancer. A World Health Organisation study reveals that every year 1,32,082 women are diagnosed with this particular kind of cancer and 74,118 die from the disease. The growing risk of cervical cancer in women in India (aged 0-64 years) is 2.4% compared to 1.3% for the world.

What is cervical cancer?
Cervical Cancer is the cancer of the mouth of the uterus called cervix. "It is the commonest cancer in India and all sexually active women are at a risk of contracting this disease. But it's mostly seen in woman aged between 50 to 55 years. If detected at a pre-cancerous stage (when the cells are not normal, but are not yet cancerous), this cancer is 100 per cent curable," says Dr Gauravi Mishra, a consultant in preventive oncology at the Tata Memorial Hospital.

Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse, bleeding between periods, post-menstrual bleeding and discharge from the vagina

Main cause
HPV (Human papillomavirus infection): HPV is the main and necessary virus for this cancer. It is a sexually transmitted virus and even rubbing of the private parts can cause it. Most people never even know they have HPV, or that they are passing it to their partner. So it may not be possible to know who gave you HPV or when you got it. HPV is so common that most people get it soon after they start having sex. And it may only be detected years later.

Risk factors:
Having sex at an early age
Having many sexual partners
Having many pregnancies
Using birth control pills for 5 or more years
Consuming any form of tobacco

Cervical cancer vaccine: Is the first vaccine ever designed to prevent cancer. It is recommended to girls aged 11 to 12 years as it allows a girl's immune system to be activated before she's likely to encounter HPV. This vaccine is not yet available in India, but is expected by the year end. "Although this vaccine has proved quite effective in the western countries, we still need to follow up to see for how long the immunity lasts," says Dr Mishra.

Delay sex: Waiting to have sex until you are older can help you avoid HPV. It also helps to limit your number of sexual partners and to avoid having sex with someone who has had many other sexual partners.

Use condoms: Condoms when used correctly can lower the HPV infection rate by about 70%. They can't protect one completely because they don't cover every possible HPV-infected area of the body, such as the skin of the genital or the anal area.

Important Tests
Pap test: Cells are collected from the surface of the cervix and checked on a slide. This test is available at most hospitals and clinics and its cost varies from Rs 250 to Rs 500.

HPV test: Doctors take DNA cells by swabbing the cervix. "The HPV test is ideal for the detection of cervical cancer. It is slightly more accurate than the pap test, but is not recommended for woman below 30 years of age," says Dr Neerja Batla, a senior gynecologist, AIIMS. This test is available at all major hospitals and costs around Rs 1,500.

Colposcopy test: It enlarges the image of the cervic and the cells can be then seen clearly. This test is available at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai.

The three main treatments available today are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. In case of a surgery, the chances of a woman conceiving a child later in her life are as good as nil. "In surgery, we remove the lymph nodes, uterus, some tissues and sometimes even some parts of the vagina," adds Dr Batla.

In Western countries, the cases of cervical cancer have come down due to the active awareness, vaccine and pap screenings which detect the cancer at a very early stage. But in India, which accounts for a shocking one in eight cervical cancer deaths in the world, there is little or no awareness about the disease. We hope this article brings the required alertness about this life threatening disease which a simple vaccine can stop women from falling prey to.

divya.kapoor@indiatimes.co.in Source: Time of India

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