On a healthy note

November is observed worldwide as a month for creating awareness about cervical cancer

For a country such as India, cervical cancer holds some depressing statistics. Every day more than 200 women die in India due to cervical cancer, a deadly but preventable disease. Since this cancer is most common in the age group of 30-50 years, it not only affects the woman but the entire family. In India, one woman dies of this disease every seven minutes. It is estimated that the incidence of this cancer will increase by 71 per cent by 2025 if immediate action is not taken. As a measure of creating awareness, November has been observed worldwide as the month to create awareness about cervical cancer.

Several doctors including the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have organised a series of events to talk about the problem.

Dr Nina Mansukhani, consulting gynaecologist at Jehangir Hospital, says that cervical cancer involves the mouth of the uterus and tends to occur due to exposure to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). "It is usually acquired at the onset of sexual activity. Poor immunity, repeated vaginal infections, low hygiene levels and nutritional status are some of the causes," she says.

A woman may experience the symptoms of vaginal bleeding or discharge. Pain and urinary symptoms occur at later stages. The ironic thing about cervical cancer is that owing to the cervix not being a visible organ, it is not apparent early sometimes. However, due to the various tests available, it has become simpler to diagnose cervical cancer at much earlier stages and in fact as precancerous lesions.

For the last 50 years, cervical cytology (Pap smear), has been the cornerstone of cervical cancer prevention programmes. This is simply taking the shed off cervical cells, preparing a slide and visualising it under the microscope. "Pap test has the advantage of being relatively inexpensive as compared to other latest tests and is also easily available, albeit less reliable in picking up the disease as compared to newer tests," says Mansukhani.

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