Cervical cancer, the leading cause of deaths in women in India

  • Jan 18 , 2017

Cervical cancer is the most common reason for cancer-related deaths in India and the second most common cancer among women globally. Cervical cancer is caused by the neck of the womb, which slowly spreads to the cervix. You will be shocked to know that more than a million cases of cervical cancer are reported in India every year.

According to statistics by the National Institute of Cancer Prevention and Research (NACPR), one woman dies as a result of cervical cancer every eight minutes in the country. In the case of breast cancer, one dies among every couple of women diagnosed with it. Among all the cancer cases in women, 22.86 per cent of the cases is of cervical cancer.

What causes cervical cancer?

This deadly cancer is caused by an infection from the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The infection is sexually transmitted from the infected to a healthy person. HPV infection is a major risk factor that can result in invasive cervical cancer or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia. As compared to other cancers which usually strike late, cervical cancer rises during the productive years of a woman’s life, from ages 30-34, and peaks during the ages 55.65.

As per an article in the Indian Journal of Medical and Pediatric Oncology, about 6.6 per cent of women living among the general population is said to be carrying HPV infection. 74,000 women die from HPV infection every year in India, which accounts for nearly 1/3rd of the total worldwide deaths due to cervical cancer.

Where does India lag behind?

Cervical cancer can be prevented through awareness. Two factors, namely zero awareness and an attitude which says it-cannot- happen-to-me, have resulted in the downfall of the population.

AK Anand, Director of Radiation Oncology at Max Hospital explains that cases of cervical cancer are much more common in rural than in metro areas. In contrast, cases of breast cancer in the metros are high.

Some of the common causes of cervical cancer are:

  • Herpes
  • Excessive number of children
  • Very poor local hygiene
  • Inadequate spacing between children
  • Early marriage
  • Very low nutrition levels

    Photo Courtesy: The Huffington Post


High-risk groups

Some women are generally more vulnerable than others due to their lifestyles. This holds true no matter where they are – in cities or rural areas. The group prone to high risks include girls who had premature sex as teenagers, those with multiple sex partners and not using contraceptives and those who had multiple pregnancies.

As a result of the above, there are certain symptoms which one must watch out for.

This include:

  • Constant smelly vaginal discharges
  • Post-coital bleeding
  • Irregular periods
  • Bleeding in between the menstrual cycle

During the advanced stages, there are likely to be symptoms like a single swollen leg, pelvic pain, fatigue, appetite loss, bone pains, back pains and fractures.

Methods of detection and treatment

Regular checkups with the gynecologist are important. A Pap smear test, possibly done even once in the lifetime, can warn you of cervical cancer. Menopausal women are also susceptible to this cancer, and so they must visit the gynecologist.

All types of HPV are not carcinogenic. HPV types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70 per cent of cases. A couple of vaccines for HPV are available. A girl can be vaccinated early, even before sexual contact, at 12 years of age. However, this virus may not spread only due to sexual activity, so one must take the vaccination seriously.