For Radha, the monthly menstrual cycle was like a nightmare. The pain and excessive bleeding left her exhausted. However, she ignored it thinking that it was only due to the physical and mental strain she was going through. Recently when the problem became unbearable she consulted a doctor and was shocked to learn that she was diagnosed with stage 2 cervical cancer.

Like Radha, most women, irrespective of their awareness level, are under the impression that they would never get cancer and often ignore its early signs. Studies reveal that 90 per cent of cervical cancer can be cured if detected at Stage 1 while the survival chance slashes down to 15 per cent if it is at Stage 4.

Excessive bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between cycles and after menopause are the symptoms which should ring alarm bells, says surgical oncologist and managing director of Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital and Research Institute Muralikrishna Voonna. “However, in some cases the disease remains asymptomatic, which requires a Pap smear screening test. The test helps detect the disease at an early stage. We have a wide window period of approximately 10-15 years to identify cervical cancer in pre-malignant condition. Pap smear is the safest way to screen for cervical cancer, this enables starting the treatment before the cancer turns malignant,” he explains.

Who all are at risk of getting cervical cancer? Early marriage, young age at first pregnancy, women with sexually transmitted disease, those with multiple sexual partners, have a history of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection apart from poor living standard and hygiene are at higher risk of developing cervical cancer, says chief of radiation oncology of Lions Cancer Hospital Aditya Narayan. “As per the estimates of International Agency for Research on Cancer, there will be a spurt of 79 per cent in the death rate due to cervical cancer by 2025. There is a need to educate people on the causes of cervical cancer, preventive measures and the advantages of regular screening tests and early diagnosis,” he added.

American Society of Clinical Oncology guidelines recommend that women undergo Pap smear test every year. Preferably, once a year during the first three years of marriage and if the results turn out to be negative, once in every two years thereafter or according to the doctor’s advice, explains consultant clinical and radiation oncologist at Queen’s NRI Hospital Suman Das.

With advancement of science there is a vaccine available for HPV, however, it is effective only when it is administered at a young age, especially when the girls are in their in the age group of 12-20, Dr. Muralikrishna said. He advocated a massive campaign to increase the awareness among young girls and their parents on the advantage of administering of the vaccine as HPV is a single largest factor causing cervical cancer.

The District Medical and Health Department plans to conduct screening camps for cervical cancer and intends to rope in the city hospitals, NGOs and other voluntary organisations across the district for the purpose. Queen’s NRI Hospital is also organising a series of screening camps in the city apart from rural areas.