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We’ve lately heard of cervical cancer turning into an epidemic, which is why it is better to know all about it before it’s too late. For the uninitiated, cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. This illness is caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is said to be passed on during sexual contact.
Although the body’s immune system does everything possible to minimise the virus’ impact, it can still survive for many years, and turn cancerous. In India, cervical cancer forms 16.5% of the total cancer cases in Indian women. The figures are as alarming the world over — data by the HPV centre released in 2017 showed that 1,22,844 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year, and 67,477 die from the disease.
Even though sexual contact is one of the bigger causes, research suggests not following hygienic practices down there can be a risk factor for cervical cancer. No, we aren’t kidding!
Vaginal bacteria and cervical cancer
A paper published in the journal Scientific Reports reveals that they found women with cancer or precancer of the cervix showed different vaginal bacteria, in comparison to those who had a healthy cervix.
The findings also suggest that there could be a link between ‘good bacteria and healthy cervix’ and ‘bad bacteria and increased risk for cervical cancer’. Furthermore, it was found that the good bacteria is replaced by a mixture of bad bacteria in cancer or precancer patients.
Cervical cancer happens when the cervix cells grow abnormally, and turn into a tumour. These abnormal cells are known as precancer, and if they grow and enter the neighbouring tissue, it becomes cervical cancer.
A study revealed that an increase in a bacteria called Sneathia had a direct link with HPV, cervical precancer as well as cancer. This bacteria is often linked with miscarriage, preterm labour, vaginosis, and other health issues. As of now, there is little to no research on how Sneathia functions in the reproductive tract.
Acidity of the vagina is also an important factor. Studies have shown that less acidic environments were more prone to problems in the cervix. Research shows that harmful bacteria does not thrive in acidic environments, where the pH is 4.5 or lower. But when acidity goes down and pH increases, the harmful bacteria get an opportunity to multiply.
Poor hygiene and cervical cancer
Does poor hygiene have an impact on cervical cancer? Definitely, a yes. That’s because cervical cancer is largely transmitted through sexual intercourse or from the skin and mucous membrane of the infected person. So, if you have unprotected sex, or have had sex with multiple partners, then you are certainly at a higher risk.
Coming to hygiene, you definitely need to keep your vaginal area clean. It is anyway a delicate area, making it more vulnerable to infection and irritation. Wash the area properly with mild soap and water, and make sure to change your underwear every single day. Hygiene practices are not just limited to personal habits, but also sexyal hygiene.
Make sure you insist your partners to wear a condom, while you indulge in sex. Let’s be honest, a condom might not give you all the protection from cervical cancer. If there are warts and lesions in the area that is infected by HPV and is not covered by the condom, then the infection can still be contracted by the woman. After sex, make sure to wipe the vagina with a clean cloth or tissues from back to front, so that the virus doesn’t stay behind.
Although hygiene is important, we do not mean to say you can skip regular screening and vaccination. It can help women take action on time and get treated for the same. Some symptoms of an HPV infection include abnormal bleeding, pelvic pain, abnormal discharge, and pain during urination, among others.
Women who do not have sex and maintain good hygiene are generally not at risk, and can avoid screening.