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9 things you’re probably still getting wrong about cervical cancer

Published on:20 January 2021, 17:50pm IST
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers that affects women. Thankfully though, it is completely preventable.
Dr Vishnu Agarwal
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Cervical cancer is not only curable but also 100% preventable. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. Thankfully though, it’s incidence is decreasing due to various preventable factors like routine screening, better sexual practices, better hygiene, and vaccination.

Still, there are a lot of misconceptions about cervical cancer in India. And today we’re going to clear the air about this disease. 

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Myth 1: There is no cause for cervical cancer

Most cervical cancers are caused by exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus. Although there are many other factors which can contribute to virus infection and also not all infected patients get cancer.

Myth 2: The HPV vaccine fully protects you from cervical cancer.

HPV vaccine only protects women from 80% of cervical cancers. Even then, you can still get cervical cancer without having an HPV infection. Other aspects of prevention include routine screening with Pap smear tests after the age of 21, repeating them every 3 years between ages of 21 to 29, and every 5 years between the ages of 30 and 64. Practicing safe sex and not smoking can also keep you safe from cervical cancer.

Myth 3: You don’t need screening if you haven’t had sex in a long time or only have one sexual partner

This may decrease the risk of cervical cancer, but does not eliminate your  chance of infection totally. So routine screening is necessary.

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Myth 4: Cervical cancer only happens to older women.

It can happen at any age, although it is more common between the ages of 35 to 44.

Myth 5: An abnormal Pap smear test means you have cancer

Pap tests may have many abnormalities, but this does not mean you have cancer. Discuss your findings with your doctor and then jump to any conclusion about your abnormal report.

Myth 6: Cervical cancer always exhibits symptoms

There are usually no symptoms in the early stages of cervical cancer. In the later stages you can experience symptoms like having pain during sex, unusual vaginal bleeding especially after sex and between periods, bleeding after menopause, and bleeding after pelvic examinations. 

In advanced stages it can cause pelvic pain, trouble urinating, swollen legs, kidney failure, weight loss, and lack of appetite and fatigue.

Myth 7: Women who have sex with women are safe from cervical cancer 

This is not true as HPV can be transmitted between the same gender.

Myth 8: No family history of cervical cancer means you’re safe

Many patients do not have any family history of cervical cancer, and still may get cancer. 

Myth 9: Cervical cancer is incurable 

If diagnosed at an early stage, it is fully curable. In case of precancerous lesions, the treatment may be done by LEEP conization, cryosurgery, cauterization, or laser surgery to destroy the precancerous lesions.

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For cervical cancer the most important treatment is surgery and radiation. Usually in early stages of cervical cancer where it is limited to the cervix only, the surgery is done which involves radical hysterectomy or the removal of uterus and pelvic lymph nodes. But when it progresses to surrounding tissues, radical radiation is given. Chemotherapy is usually needed in advanced stages.

Cervical cancer is largely preventable but routine screening is essential to diagnose it at a precancerous stage or in early stages. HPV vaccine should be combined with other preventable factors to achieve maximum prevention. 

Dr Vishnu Agarwal Dr Vishnu Agarwal

Dr Vishnu Agarwal is a consultant, surgical oncology at Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre.