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What is Cervical Cancer?
The word ‘cervix’ refers to the lower part of the uterus that opens into the vagina. According to a 2017 report by the HPV Information Center, the mortality rate of cervical cancer was 2876 out of the 5233 women diagnosed, making it the 3rd most fatal cancer among women in Pakistan.
Despite high chances of complete recovery, these dismal statistics make the awareness and early detection of this disease highly important.
On the occasion of Cervical Cancer awareness month, read on to learn more about cervical cancer symptoms, causes, and prevention to spread awareness amongst your loved ones.
Symptoms of Cervical Cancer
In its earlier stages, cervical cancer is physically undetectable without a pap smear test (taking a sample of cells from the cervix to find any abnormalities pertaining to cervical cancer).
Make sure to consult to an oncologist as soon as soon as possible, if you have any of the following cervical cancer symptoms:
1- Abnormal Bleeding:
While it could also be a sign of an infection, periods that are longer or heavier than usual that may also result in anemia (iron deficiency due to excess blood loss), or bleeding between periods, after intercourse or post-menopause could link to a cancerous tumour in the cervix.
2- Pelvic Pain:
Any sharp or dull pain in any part of the pelvis that is not related to your menstrual cycle might be a major sign of cervical cancer. Moreover, uncharacteristic pain near the appendix could indicate an advanced stage of the cancer. It is important to get this kind of pain checked quickly.
3- Unfamiliar Vaginal Discharge:
An infected cancerous tumor in the cervix continuously secretes a foul-smelling discharge (due to lack of oxygen) that may either be pale, watery, brown or cloudy; sometimes mixed with a little blood.
4- Irregular Bowel Movements:
Observing changes in the quality of your feces, i.e. it is either too hard or too soft and having to, or constantly feeling like you need to pee could indicate a possible tumor, particularly if these symptoms persist and/or worsen over 1 week.
5- Leg Pain:
A sign of advanced stage cancer, severe pain and swelling in the leg-due to a growing tumor pressing the nerves inside the pelvic wall-alongside any of the above symptoms might require medical attention.
Other symptoms of advanced stage cervical cancer include:
- Weight loss
- Bone fractures
- Leakage of urine or feces from the vagina
- Severe back or side pain due to hydronephrosis (kidney swelling due to urine build-up)
Causes of Cervical Cancer
In addition to a previously treated cancer of the vagina, vulva, kidney or the urinary tract, and a family history of cervical cancer, other possible catalysts of cervical cancer are given below:
1- A Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Infection:
13 out of more than 150 strains (types) of this sexually transmitted virus are a major causative factor of most cervical cancer cases. While HPV infections are common and usually treatable, certain viruses remain inside the body and form chronic, cancer-causing tumors. HPV can also spread via direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual.
2- Reduced Immunity:
An HPV virus-which is normally eliminated within 12-18 months by the immune system- rapidly transforms into a cancerous tumour in the weakened immune systems of women who have undergone an organ transplant, take immunosuppressant medication as a treatment for a certain autoimmune disease, or suffer from HIV-AIDS.
According to various researchers, tobacco and other substance presents in cigarettes not only weaken the immune system-reducing its ability to combat HPV infections-but also damage the DNA of cervix cells, resulting in the formation of cervical tumors; hence, doubling the likelihood of cervical cancer among current and ex-smoking females.
4- Multiple Pregnancies:
Studies indicate that women who have had 3 or more pregnancies in the past face a higher risk of cervical cancer. This may be due to the weakened immune system and hormonal changes during and after pregnancy. Moreover, pregnant women under 17 also have a doubled risk of cervical cancer later in life.
Prevention of Cervical Cancer
In addition to regular smear tests from age 21, and practicing safe sex, routine rounds of special HPV vaccinations for females aged 11-26 and males aged 11-21-especially before becoming sexually active-can drastically reduce the chances of cervical cancer.
However, the absence of such vaccines in Pakistan, mainly due to the lack of awareness and stigmatization of STDs, is a major contributor to the late-diagnoses and high death rates caused by cervical cancer.
Get tested regularly if you are at a high-risk of developing cancer; and if you observe any of the above symptoms, immediately contact a specialist.
You can also book an appointment with a top Oncologist in Karachi, Multan and Rawalpindi through oladoc.com. Or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT Doctor for your cervix-related issues.