The C-word is not taken very well by most of us, as most of the time, we are ill-prepared and have half-baked knowledge. Cancer as we all know, is an uncontrolled overgrowth of abnormal cells within various parts of our body, with varying potential for invasion into adjacent parts. This piece will speak about cervical cancer, or cancer involving the lowermost and outermost part of the uterus (womb) call the cervix.
Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer seen in women, worldwide. In India, it is assessed to be the second most common cancer in women, especially among those who belong to the reproductive age group.
The cervix is a cylindrical organ, which is divided into an inner endocervix and outer ectocervix. The junctional zone is usually affected by various changes like infection from the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes it to undergo precancerous changes. If these precancerous changes are not identified on time and treated, it may progress into becoming cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer comes with hardly any symptoms in the early treatable stages. In advanced cases, it may cause excessive vaginal discharge, irregular blood spotting, post-coital spotting, vague pelvic pain, etc.
Since the symptoms are very rare, it is prudent that women of the reproductive age group should test themselves annually using a pap smear test. It is a simple cervical cancer screening method, through which your gynecologist will collect some cell samples from the junctional zone, and will test for infections and precancerous conditions.
* In all women above 30 years of age
* Every year, as suggested by your gynecologist, and based on the previous tests
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Surgery is the mainstay of treatment for cervical cancer. It is one of those cancers which if identified early, can be completely cured by simple surgery. The surgery may vary from simple small wedge biopsies in the early stages to extensive pelvic surgeries followed up with radiation and chemotherapy in certain cases.
As infection with human papillomavirus is the major cause of cervical cancer, getting vaccinated has been found to be useful in prevention. In addition, robust pap smear screening is the cornerstone in identifying disease in its early stage.