Cervical cancer is a tumour of the cervix, the lower region of the womb-uterus, that affects the tissues of the cervix and can metastasize to other areas, including the vagina, bladder, rectum, and even the lungs. It is the fourth most common cancer affecting women.

The month of January is observed as Cervical Cancer Awareness month in India. As per statistics, it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in India. 
Cervical cancer awareness month

The leading cause of cervical cancer is constant infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), a high-risk type, a common group of viruses transmitted via sexual contact. Cervical cancer is curable and preventable with prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment. In addition, advanced screening methods can help identify abnormalities in the cervix and its cells. The main aim of this awareness event is to focus on comprehensive prevention strategies, effective screening, and early detection of cervical cancer.

With effective vaccination, regular screening, and the availability of advanced diagnostic tools, the quality of life of women with cervical cancer is improving, and the mortality rate is also decreasing. Women above the age of 35 need to undergo cervical cancer screening as the chances of getting cervical cancer increase.

Also Read: Vaginal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

Read this article to get an insight into effective screening methods to avert the risk of cervical cancer.

Different Screening Methods

Regular screening can also aid in averting the risk of HPV and other precancerous alterations that can develop into tumour. Some of the effective diagnostic tools that can help prevent and lower the risk of cervical cancer in women include:

Papanicolaou Test (Pap smear): 

A Pap smear test involves a pelvic examination to identify any change in the cervical cells that can become cancerous. It is done as an outpatient procedure. A metal or plastic instrument is inserted to widen the vagina and visualize the mouth of the cervix. A few cells are collected from the cervix for microscopic examination. 

Who Should Get It?

Pap testing is recommended for women ages 21 to 65, and in women above 30 years, a PAP smear is done every five years if the procedure is combined with HPV testing. If you have any risk factors, your healthcare provider may recommend more frequent testing, regardless of age.

Risks include:

  • A Pap smear that showed precancerous cells earlier
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol before birth
  • HIV infection
  • Compromised immune system- organ transplant, chemotherapy, or chronic corticosteroid use
  • Smoking

You can stop getting tested for a Pap smear after 65 years if the last 3 reports have been normal or after a hysterectomy for a non-cancerous condition.

Also Read: Female Hygiene: 10 Simple And Effective Ways To Maintain Vaginal Health

VIA Screening: 

Visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid (VIA) can aid in identifying any cervical lesions. It is a cost-effective method that involves simple treatment and efficient diagnoses for early symptoms of cervical cancer. Women who have tested positive are provided with cryotherapy treatment soon after cervical biopsy. This test also helps to confirm any precancerous lesion in the cervix region.

Who Should Get It?

It is recommended for women between 26- 30 years, as it is a cost-effective tool it is advantageous for women living in remote areas with very limited sources.

HPV Testing: 

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are the main cause of cervical cancer in more than 99% of women. Thus, HPV testing supports detecting the presence of the HPV virus responsible for cervical cancer and offers the patient the best treatment option. Generally, the HPV virus that causes cervical cancer takes at least 10 years to turn into cancer, thus allowing sufficient time for diagnosis and treatment.

Who Should Get It?

This test is recommended for women aged 30-65. In most cases, the doctor might recommend a Pap smear and HPV test together every five years or in women with any abnormal results on a Pap smear.

What To Expect After Screening?

You may be asked to monitor your health condition depending on the results. If the doctor finds any abnormalities, further tests are suggested, like colposcopy or biopsy, or you may recommend you visit an oncologist.

Can Cervical Cancer Be Prevented?

Yes, cervical cancer can be prevented by getting the HPV vaccine, per the recommendations.

Recommended Age for Vaccination: 9-14 years before the start of sexual activity

Dose Schedules For HPV Vaccine

WHO Recommendations:

  • 1 or 2 dose schedules for girls aged 9-14 at 6 -12 months interval
  • 1 or 2 dose schedules for young women aged 15-20
  • Two doses with a 6-month interval for women above 21
  • Immunocompromised persons, including those with HIV, should get three doses if possible, and if not, at least two doses

It is important to follow safe sexual practices, including the use of condoms, and limiting the number of active sexual partners can lessen the risk of developing an HPV infection and cancer.