Every year, January is observed as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month worldwide. This is a great opportunity for the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners to raise awareness about cervical cancer and HPV vaccination. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer in women. Preventing the development of cervical cancer by increasing access to effective vaccines is a critical step in preventing unnecessary morbidity and mortality. Cervical cancer occurs in a woman’s cervix (the lower part of the uterus).
Almost all cases of cervical cancer (99 percent) are linked to infection with the high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted virus. Although most infections with HPV clear up on their own and cause no symptoms, persistent infection can cause cervical cancer in women.
Cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treated cancers if diagnosed early and treated effectively. Cancers diagnosed in late stages can also be controlled with appropriate treatment and palliative care. For this, women can do some basic things:
Get information: Find out the facts about cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes it. Help educate other women in your life.
Get Screened: Cervical cancer screening usually begins at age 30 and is repeated periodically.
Get vaccinated: To protect against cervical cancer, the HPV vaccine is given in two doses, starting between the ages of 9 and 14.
In August 2020, the World Health Assembly adopted a global strategy to end cervical cancer. The strategy outlines a comprehensive approach, including programs for cervical cancer prevention, effective screening and treatment of precancerous lesions, early cancer diagnosis and cervical cancer management.
This month and beyond, let’s work together to build healthier communities by improving access to HPV vaccination, screening, cervical pre-cancer treatment and cervical cancer management by 2030, says the World Health Organization. And eliminate cervical cancer in a few generations.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
Despite all the medical advances made over the years, cancer is a disease that is still under investigation to find the exact cause and proper treatment. But due to the growing sense of fear surrounding this chronic disease, people are stuck with prejudices and wrong beliefs and cervical cancer is no exception. Although the exact cause of cervical cancer is still unknown, several scientific studies have shown that genetic changes in the cells of the cervix can be caused by a sexually transmitted infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
Despite being a common form of cancer affecting women all over the world, the main reason for the prevalence of this disease is the lack of proper cancer workshops and programs to create awareness about it. Therefore, to increase awareness, the first step that needs to be taken is to expose the misconceptions attributed to cervical cancer. Here are 5 common misconceptions about cervical cancer.
1- Do you have to go for an annual Pap test? If one’s Pap test and HPV test are both negative, indicating the absence of infection, a mandatory Pap test every year is not required. There are some guidelines regarding cervical cancer for women who have previously had Pap and HPV screening with normal test results.
* 21 to 29 years: Pap test should be done every three years.
30 to 64 years: Pap test and HPV test should be done every five years.
* Age 65 and above: Consult your treating doctor whether you need to undergo any tests or not.
2-HPV infection gets better on its own. This is partly true. While some HPV infection lesions may heal on their own, women may not even know about it. However, some chronic lesions can persist and grow in the body, leading to serious health problems such as genital warts and many other types of cancer.
3-Cervical cancer is genetic. Unlike ovarian cancer and breast cancer, cervical cancer is not hereditary. One of the most likely causes behind cervical cancer is HPV infection. Therefore, timely HPV vaccination is emphasized worldwide to protect against it. If someone is too old to get vaccinated, make sure they get regular screening for HPV and Pap tests as directed.
4- Can nothing be done to prevent cervical cancer? Cervical cancer is one of the most controllable cancers. A simple Pap test can help detect any changes in the cells of the cervix. If a change is detected, it is possible to start treatment early and prevent the cancer from spreading throughout the body.
In addition to timely Pap tests and HPV vaccination, avoiding smoking or tobacco use, being protected from Chlamydia infection, immunosuppression or HIV infection can greatly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.