- Cervical cancer prevention: Avoid sexual contact with multiple partners
- World Cancer Day: Get a Pap test done every 3 years
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain
World Cancer Day 2021: Of the several types of cancers, there is one form that can be prevented by timely screening and precautions. Known as cervical cancer, this condition is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) and has emerged as the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Indian women. Statistics point out that there are 122,000 new cases of cervical cancer annually in the country, with 67,500 women succumbing to the disease, accounting for 11.1% of total deaths related to cancer. On World Cancer Day on February 4, it is imperative to understand the risk factors that can predispose women to cervical cancer.
A risk factor refers to something that can increase the likelihood of getting a health condition. Similarly, there are certain factors that can predispose women to cervical cancer. Of these, there are several avoidable ones.
World Cancer Day: Here are a few risk factors of cervical cancer you must know
1. HPV or the human papillomavirus infection
This is one of the most important risk factors for cervical cancer. There are over 150 kinds of viruses. An HPV infection can infect cells on the surface of the skin and the lining of the genitals, etc. The infection can spread from person to person through skin contact or sexual activity. High-risk HPV are linked to cervical cancer in women. This is more so when an HPV infection tends to become chronic. It is possible to treat the abnormal cell growth caused by an HPV infection. The risk of acquiring cervical cancer can also be reduced through HPV vaccines.
2. History of sexual activity
This is one of the foremost avoidable risk factors for cervical cancer. Callousness in sexual activity can expose a person to HPV thereby increasing the likelihood of cancer. This is more so when a person is sexually active at a young age, has many sexual partners or a partner with high risk.
Smoking exposes a person to various cancer-causing chemicals - both active and passive. The harmful substances in tobacco smoke can be absorbed through the lungs and carried throughout the body by the bloodstream. According to studies women who smoke are doubly at risk of acquiring cervical cancer. The substances in tobacco tend to damage the DNA of cervix cells and smoking also weakens the immune system.
4. Weak immunity
A strong immune system not only keeps one healthy but is also responsible for destroying cancer cells, and stopping their growth and spread. In women with certain conditions such as HIV, a cervical pre-cancer might develop faster than normal. Another category at risk of weakened immunity is women who are being treated for autoimmune disorders with certain drugs that suppress the immune response.
5. Use of contraceptives for a prolonged period
Women who use oral contraceptives for a long time are also at risk of developing cancer of the cervix. It is important to understand the need to take oral contraceptives and they must be consumed only if the specialist advises. Women should understand whether the benefits of using oral contraceptives outweigh their likely risks.
Multiple full-term pregnancies
Women with three or more full-term pregnancies are at the risk of increased exposure to HPV infection due to sexual activity and therefore, cervical cancer. Another factor that raises the risk of cancer is the hormonal changes during pregnancy. Apart from this, pregnancy also leads to weak immunity, which is also a cause for concern.
Women between the age group of 20-70 years and those who are sexually active, should regularly get themselves tested for this virus, as an early detection can stop the growth of the cancer cells and prevent the condition from spreading. If gone undetected, the cancer can metastasize and spread to other parts of the body, at which point it can become fatal. Pap smear is a test done to detect cervical cancer and is recommended every three years over the age of 30. If previous tests have been normal, then a Pap smear and HPV test should be undertaken every five years. A complete pelvic examination is also carried out during this test.
It is also important for women and adolescent girls to take certain precautions to avoid the risk of acquiring this disease:
- Reduce the chances of getting infected with the HPV by avoiding sexual contact with multiple partners without adequate protection.
- Get a Pap test done every 3 years as timely detection can help in curing this condition.
- Quit smoking right away. Nicotine and other components found in cigarettes may pass through the blood stream and get deposited in the cervix where they can alter the growth of cervical cells. Smoking can also suppress your immune system making it more susceptible to HPV infections.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Maintain a healthy weight as being overweight or obese increases the risk of insulin resistance, which may lead to type 2 diabetes and increase the risk of developing cancer.
Sexual and reproductive ill-health mostly affects women and adolescents. It is important to remove popular misconceptions about sex, contraception, getting timely check-up done for an underlying sexual infection or disease - this is more so for a country like ours where the subject is still socially taboo. It is also imperative to understand that objective advice from a respected source is better rather than that from peers, the Internet and word of mouth.
(Dr Vishal Sehgal, Medical Director, Portea Medical)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. NDTV is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this article. All information is provided on an as-is basis. The information, facts or opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.