Friday, March 5th, 2010

The Silent Killer—Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer silently saps life out of women. This second most common cancer that affects women betrays no symptoms until it is too late. India is home to one-fourth of the world cervical cases. Among some 1.26 lakh Indian cases, 72,000 die from it annually. Most women who die from cervical cancer are in the prime of their life. They may be raising children, caring for their family, and contributing to the social and economic life of the society.

HPV virus

o Most cervical cancers are associated with infection with human papillomaviruses (HPV).

o HPV is thought to grow preferentially in the epithelium of the glans penis. Scrupulous washing and cleaning of genitals in men may help in getting rid of the virus.

o Men may carry the virus but women are more predisposed to catching it. Cervix is a vulnerable zone and it undergoes changes on contact with the virus.

The American Cancer Society enlists these risk factors

o Human Papilloma Virus infection
o Smoking
o HIV infection
o Dietary factors
o Oral contraceptives
o Multiple pregnancies
o Use of hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES)

Other risk factors include–

o Early child bearing
o Multiple sex partners
o Infertility

Pap Test

This disease advances silently and presents no symptoms until it is too late. This makes it crucial for women to have regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. In this test cells are collected from a woman’s cervix, and studied for specific changes. These changes are warning signs, which actually may appear years before cancer develops.

The majority of cervical cancers grow gradually over several years with precancerous cells existing previous to the cancer cells. As the cancer progresses, these signs and symptoms may appear.

Warning Signs

o Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
o Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor
o Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse

Ray of hope

A ray of hope has come in the form of vaccines. Two drug companies are involved in marketing the vaccine. The three-shot vaccine protects women against the Human Papilloma Virus, (HPV) a transmitted infection, was developed by Professor Ian Frazer of Austrailia. While global trials for the vaccines have been on for the last five years, those in India have started a few months ago.

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