Though easily treatable when diagnosed early, cervical cancer kills thousands of women every year. But there are ways that this dreaded disease can be stopped in its tracks.
So you are a young, healthy woman, newly married and busy with home and career? This is the time to plan your dream house, save to buy that Gucci bag, decide on the next travel destination. Right?
Well, yes, but there is another thing to add to the list of “to-dos”. One that relates to your health and your family’s well-being.
Most young people, both men and women, consider disease to be a problem of old age. It is something that may need insurance or squirrelling away of funds, some times in an ad hoc manner. However, taking proactive steps to safeguard health in the 20s and 30s is not on any priority list. This is where most people go wrong.
Women, in particular, need to be conscious and aware of the various threats to their health. One of the areas where awareness is not in proportion to the threat posed is cervical cancer. As many as 70,000 women die from this cancer every year in India alone. This figure, as you can imagine, would be much higher if all incidences were diagnosed and reported; a challenge in a country where the majority of the population is illiterate and rural.
The tragedy is that cervical cancer is one of those rare cancers that are completely treatable if diagnosed in time. A simple test like the liquid-based cytology (LBC) test, which is more advanced than the traditional pap test, undertaken every two years from the age of 18 can save several lives and many families from being shattered by a completely reversible tragedy. If caught at the onset, treatment takes less than an hour and a fraction of the cost that would otherwise be spent to treat an advanced stage. Luckily cancer of cervix can be diagnosed in the pre-cancer stage when disease is not invasive.
Where most women make a mistake is in assuming that because they are young and have no symptoms or discomfort, they need not worry about their health. This automatically rules out any routine tests.
What they need to know is that 45-80 per cent women may be carrying the human papillomavirus or HPV (that causes cervical cancer) at any point of time. A woman can have HPV for years and not be aware of it. It can stay in the body and lead to cancer years later.
Though 90 per cent of the time the virus disappears due to the body’s immune system, it is the balance 10 per cent that we need to safeguard against.
That is why regular screenings are so important. A screening can find changes in cervical cells before they turn into cancer. The target group for cervical cancer is usually said to be 28-62 years, though it is best that all sexually active women undergo routine screening.
That prevention can dramatically change the incidence and mortality rate is demonstrated by the U.K. Here, cervical cancer has fallen from topping the incidence and mortality list to 14th ever since the government went into an over-drive about screening. Every year 30 million women undergo screening. No surprise then that the death toll has now fallen to 2,000 annually from 150,000 in the 1970s.
In terms of a family’s finances too, cervical cancer can wreak havoc. While the most advanced test for detecting cervical cancer, the LBC test, costs a mere Rs.350, the treatment can be anywhere upwards of Rs.5 lakhs. One can only imagine the strain it would put on a family’s savings. Considering that LBC is more accurate than the conventional pap smear test and can save you from a debilitating or fatal disease, it is worth making the time and effort to go for the test.
For most women, the well-being of their family and a happy environment at home take a bigger priority than their own health. However, what they need to understand is that an illness like cervical cancer can wreak havoc with all their plans and hopes. All they need to do is to allow technology to come to their aid and detect a completely treatable illness while there is still time.