It is necessary to get the facts right so that timely measures are taken to avert the disease.
In today's fast paced world, women are not just mere homemakers but also achieving success on the professional front. However, this is taking a toll on their health making them vulnerable to various lifestyle ailments such as obesity, depression, chronic backache, diabetes and hypertension. One major lifestyle disease that has increased in the recent past is cancer. Surveys show that breast cancer and cervical cancer are the two most common types to affect women.
There are certain myths about cervical cancer. Cervical cancer, which is caused mainly by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is the abnormal growth of uncontrolled tissue that exists in the cervix uteri. The predominant symptoms are abnormal bleeding and vaginal discharge.
It is preventable
Cervical cancer is preventable but many believe that the disease cannot be averted. Two major vaccines for H.P.V virus — Gardasil and Cervarix — are now available. These can be given to girls starting from the age of 12. These vaccines are given thrice in a span of six months to complete a course. Further, if the disease is detected at a pre cancerous stage, then it can be totally cured. Regular Pap Smear and HPV DNA are two most common preventive tests of cervical cancer. Women who are sexually active are advised to undergo these tests annually. Those who have had normal Pap tests for three years in a row may take the test at an interval of three years.
A 45-year-old cervical cancer patient is leading a normal life today only thanks to her vigilance. She underwent Pap Smear Tests after complaining of abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge. But the results were normal. However, when the symptoms persisted, she underwent a biopsy that revealed stage 1A cervical cancer. Since it was detected early, it was possible to cure her completely through surgery. Some women avoid a biopsy fearing that the cancer cells will spread. However, this is not true and the test is necessary for accurate diagnosis.
Another myth is that only women with more than one sexual partner are affected. But there are many women affected by cervical cancer who have had only one sexual partner. This is because HPV spreads easily by intimate skin-to-skin contact in the genital area regardless of the number of sexual partners.
Again, a common notion is that condoms provide 100 per cent protection against HPV. No doubt, it reduces the risk of the disease but the virus can be transmitted via other portions of genitalia not covered by condoms.
One very common myth prevailing among young women is that cervical cancer affects only older women. But this disease can affect people of any age group. One should go for screening from the age of 21.
Generally, older women believe that they don’t require Pap Smears. However, older women should continue PAP tests regularly until at least the age of 70. The risk of disease does not decrease with advanced age.
Since cervical cancer is the only cancer that can be prevented, it is imperative that people should get the facts about this disease right so that timely measures are taken to avert it. Self awareness is the most powerful step that can be taken in order to eradicate the disease.
The writer is a Consultant in Gynae-Oncology.