Women as early as 21, or even at the onset of puberty, must develop a habit of routine checkups for HPVs and traces of cervical cancer
By: Dr Meeta Nakhare
Deepa, 26 and a mother, recalls her experience of battling with cervical cancer. Soon after her pregnancy, she began suffering from irregular bleeding during her menstrual cycle. Initially, she considered it to be a harmless hormonal change. But, when the menstrual flow did not improve, she sought clinical help. Upon screening, the gynecologist identified traces of human papillomavirus (HPV) in her cervix and suggested further tests. Taking proactive measures and timely clinical intervention, Deepa was able to prevent the spread of cancer.
Regular screening a must
Cervical cancer affects women of all ages and hence, regular screening for HPV and cervical cancer is a must to control cancer in the precancerous stage itself. It is the second-biggest cause of premature mortalities within the cancer profile. Come 2020, and patients of cervical cancer will witness a significant rise, adding 148,624 more patients to the existing disease burden, annually. The main reason for the surge in patient numbers is lack of awareness about the need for early detection and screening to prevent cancer in the precancerous stage. Every 8 minutes, a woman dies of cervical cancer in India. However, around the world, developed countries are taking up early detection tests as part of their improving healthcare scenario. Take for instance, Scandinavian and other developed countries have successfully reduced the disease burden to the level of a rare disease i.e. 1 to 2 patients per 100,000. The reduction in disease burden in the developed countries has been achieved by relying on cervical cancer tests like— Papanicolaou test (Pap smear), high-risk HPV tests, and Liquid Based Cytology (LBC) test etc.
Timely detection has a major impact on reducing the preventable mortality rate. In India, most women do not consult a doctor for symptoms like an irregular menstrual cycle. It leads women in their late 50s to be diagnosed with cervical cancer. If screening processes become a routine examination, millions of women can prevent the growth of cancer in the precancerous stage itself. Another major reason for the delay caused in treatment of cervical cancer patients is the long window of detection of symptoms. This makes raising awareness around the disease burden even more necessary.
Latest & better technologies can help
We do not want women finding out they are in the final stages of cancer when they can detect it in the precancerous stage. You should not avoid symptoms like — abnormal vaginal discharge, pain in the pelvic region, pain during intercourse, abnormal menstrual cycle, etc. Cervical cancer progresses slowly through precancerous changes, but with timely screening, it can be prevented. In fact, the survival rate is at 93%, when detected at an early stage.
With developments in the field of oncology, detecting and treating cervical cancer has become more feasible. LBC test helps identify the trace of cancer in the precancerous stage. It detects the presence of any cellular abnormalities, pre-cancerous lesions, atypical cells, and all other cytologic categories etc. in the cervix. In this process, cells from the surface of the cervix are collected and examined for abnormalities. Unlike the limitations of pap smear technology like insufficient cells, the presence of blood, mucin; LBC enhances the diagnostic reliability by reducing the number of inadequate smears. With LBC, a patient can be screened for multiple profiles with the same sample. Take for instance— the sample once collected can be reused in repeat testing and ancillary testing like HPV screening, etc. Due to the cell enrichment technique used in LBC tests, the cellular abnormalities can be observed more clearly and addressed more efficiently.
Nip it in the bud
Cervical cancer, the second most common type of cancer among women worldwide, is a preventable disease and yet the disease burden in India is projected to grow in the future. Women as early as 21, or even at the onset of puberty, must develop a habit of routine checkups for HPVs and traces of cervical cancer. Having the necessary detection tests and treatment options in place is what we need; plus raising awareness about the disease.
Any failure to screen for the disease can result in heavy financial costs to healthcare systems across the world. However, when the disease is caught in its later stages, medical costs are several times higher and much less effective than early interventions and screening. Going forward, a rise in awareness levels about the importance of women’s health can help in higher screening rates and more lives saved.
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