Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Cervical Cancer in India : Know it, Slay it!

Cervical cancer, a significant health concern in India, represents the third most common cancer among Indian women. With an incidence rate exceeding 18% and a mortality rate of over 9%, it stands as a critical issue in women’s health. Notably, January marks an important period as Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, drawing attention to this pressing matter.

Understanding Cervical Cancer Risks and Prevention

In an insightful interview with THE WEEK, Dr. Amita Nathani, a Senior Consultant in Gynae Oncology at Artemis Hospital in Gurugram, sheds light on the risks and prevention of cervical cancer. Contrary to common belief, cervical cancer isn’t solely a concern for older women; young women are also at risk. The primary culprit behind this cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), especially prevalent among sexually active youths.

Risk Factors Beyond HPV

Other risk factors include smoking, which not only increases the likelihood of acquiring HPV but also diminishes immune function, and long-term oral contraceptive use. These factors necessitate a closer monitoring of cervical health among young women.

Prevention: Vaccination and Screening

Prevention strategies revolve primarily around the HPV vaccine, recommended for both girls and boys before they become sexually active. Catch-up vaccination options exist for those who missed the initial recommended age. Additionally, routine screenings like Pap smears and HPV testing are vital for early detection, allowing for timely intervention.

Additional Precautions

Precautions extend to practicing safe sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and quitting smoking. Moreover, spreading awareness and education about HPV vaccination and regular screenings plays a crucial role in prevention.

The Role of a Healthy Lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is a formidable defense against cervical cancer. A balanced diet, regular exercise, and effective stress management reinforce the immune system, enhancing its capability to combat HPV infections.

The Harsh Reality: Statistics and Challenges

Dr. Neha Kumar, a Senior Consultant in Gynaecological Oncology at Amrita Hospital in Faridabad, highlights the severity of the situation: annually, over 1,20,000 new cases are diagnosed, with more than 77,000 succumbing to the disease, primarily due to late diagnosis. This staggering mortality rate of approximately 63% underscores the urgency of the matter.

Causes for Concern

The high burden of cervical cancer in India can be attributed to a lack of awareness and inadequate screening. Early detection is key, as it can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops and is still treatable.

Screening Challenges

While conventional screening methods like Pap smear and HPV tests are effective, they are not universally accessible, particularly in remote and rural areas. Alternative methods like VIA (Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid) and VILI (Visual Inspection with Lugol’s Iodine) have been proposed as effective screening tools in these regions.

Conclusion: A Call for Action

Despite the alarming prevalence of cervical cancer in India, there is no nationwide government-sponsored screening program. A study reviewing various screening tools suggests that visual screening tests like VIA/VILI might be more suited for resource-poor settings.

This calls for a unified effort towards increasing awareness, improving access to screening and treatment facilities, and integrating effective prevention strategies into the primary healthcare system. It’s time for India to intensify its fight against cervical cancer, safeguarding the health and well-being of its women.


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