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Cervical Cancer Awareness: Here’s Why So Many Young Women Are Getting It?

A molecular oncologist and cancer geneticist, Dr. Amit Verma, stressed how important it is to find the right treatment for the patient, especially in the later stages.

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According to a report on hpvcentre.net called India Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Related Cancers, Fact Sheet 2021, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women in India. It is most common in women between the ages of 15 and 44.

The report also says that 483.5 million women in India who are 15 years old or older are at risk of getting cervical cancer. Based on current estimates, 123,907 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and 77,348 women die from the disease.

Gynecologists at different hospitals say they have seen women as young as 25 with cervical cancer. This is a big change from 35–40 years ago. “This change has happened over the past ten years because women became sexually active at a young age and didn’t know enough about birth control.

Even though there is a vaccine for HPV and more access to and availability of birth control, not enough people know about these things. Dr. Sujit Ash, a consultant in gynecology and obstetrics at the PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre in Khar, told indianexpress.com that this is why young women are coming in with changes in their cervix and being HPV positive, not just for cervical cancer but also for oral or anal cancers.

As a result, January, which is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, is a great time to talk about why more young women are getting cervical cancer and what can be done to stop it.

What is This Cancer About?

Cervical cancer happens when healthy cells on the cervix get infected with HPV and multiply quickly, forming a mass or tumor that can be cancerous or not.

At first, these changes aren’t cancerous, but over time, they can cause cancer. To stop cancer from starting, precancerous tissue needs to be taken out.

“The disease is called cervical cancer or invasive cervical cancer if the precancerous cells turn into cancer cells and spread deeper into the cervix or to other tissues and organs,” said Dr. Paula Goel, a consultant paediatrician, adolescent doctor, and founder of the Fayth Clinic.

There are two main types of cervical cancer, named for the type of cell where cancer starts:

  • About 80% to 90% of all cervical cancers are caused by squamous cell carcinoma.
  • 10–20% of all cervical cancers are caused by adenocarcinoma.

Where is the Cervix Found?

The cervix is the narrow part at the bottom of the uterus where it meets the vagina. When cancerous changes happen in the cells that line this part of the uterus, we call it cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer is usually found in the “transformational zone,” which is where the endo cervix meets the ecto cervix,” said Dr. Niti Raizada, senior director of medical oncology and hemato-oncology at the Fortis Group of Hospitals on Richmond Road in Bengaluru.

How and Why Does Cancer Develop in This Part of the Uterus?

Dr. Raizada says that an HPV infection that lasts a long time is the most common cause. This virus is spread through sexual contact, and it is thought that at least half of people who have many sexual partners will get HPV at some point in their lives. Even though HPV infection is very common, only a small number of people who have it actually get cervical cancer.

Who is More Likely to Get Cancer of the Cervix?

Dr. Goel said that people with HPV are more likely to get cervical cancer. Because men don’t have a cervix, they can’t get cervical cancer. However, Sujit said that sexually active men can get HPV. “HPV infection can cause cancer of the mouth and throat, penis, or anus in men. Some strains of the virus can also cause cancer of the genitalia.” And right now, there is no way to test men for this virus,” Dr. Sujit said.

Symptoms

Experts say that cervical cancer in its early stages “usually has no signs or symptoms.” Symptoms of advanced cervical cancer are:

  • Bleeding in the womb after a sexual act, between periods, or after menopause.
  • A vaginal discharge that is watery, bloody, and may be heavy and smell bad.
  • Pain during a sexual act.
  • Unknown, long-lasting pelvic and/or back pain.

How Does It Get Diagnosed?

There are many ways to check for cervical cancer, depending on:

  • Type of cancer thought to be present
  • Symptoms and signs
  • Age and health in general
  • The results of medical tests done in the past

These tests are used to figure out:

  • Bimanual pelvic examination
  • Pap test
  • Test for HPV typing
  • Colposcopy is used to help guide a cervix biopsy
  • Biopsy
  • MRI is used to measure the size of the tumor
  • PET scan
  • Tests for biomarkers on the tumour
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