Prioritise your health: Everything you need to know about cervical cancer

A gynaecologist and oncologist talk about what heightens the risks, the signs to look out for, and the preventive measures.

02 February, 2024
Prioritise your health: Everything you need to know about cervical cancer

In the latest budget talk, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman dropped some noteworthy news! Brace yourselves, ladies—the government's got a plan, and it involves adding the Human Papillomavirus Vaccine (HPV) to our immunisation program. This isn't just any vaccine—it's a game-changer for girls aged 9 to 14, aiming to ward off cervical cancer.

As the vaccination buzz takes centre stage, let's talk awareness! Educate yourself on all things cervical cancer—symptoms, risks, and treatments. 

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus connecting to the vagina. Persistent infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the main causes of cervical cancer. It poses a serious health risk, but with awareness and proactive measures, cervical cancer can be prevented which is why young girls and women should know about the signs, symptoms, and preventive steps to mitigate the risk of cervical cancer. 

Decoding the signs 

If you're noticing abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after intimacy, or postmenopause, it's time to pay attention. Unusual discharge? Watery, bloody, or off-putting smell—your body may be trying to tell you something.

But wait, there's more. Unexplained weight loss, persistent fatigue, and pelvic pain not linked to your cycle or intimacy are signals worth investigating. Pain during urination or back pain could be more than just a random ache. And if your legs are unexpectedly swelling, it might be time to prioritise your health. All of these signs and symptoms may indicate cervical cancer (although not necessarily) and you should go to a gynaecologist for a thorough checkup. Your body speaks volumes—tune in and take action! 

Preventive measures 

Regular health check-ups

It's important to monitor your reproductive health by scheduling regular check-ups with your Gynaec. 

Vaccination against HPV

As stated above, the HPV vaccine is effective in preventing infection with the most common types of HPV, many of which can lead to cervical cancer. Both girls and boys are advised to take the HPV vaccine before they become sexually active.

Regular Pap smear tests

Regular Pap smears or Pap test screenings are crucial to detect abnormal changes in cervical cells before they become cancerous, allowing for early intervention. Starting these screenings at the recommended age and following the advised schedule can significantly reduce the risk of cervical cancer.

Safe sexual practices

Using protective measures like condoms can reduce the risk of HPV transmission. Moreover, encouraging safe sexual practices can contribute to overall sexual health. In addition, minimising the number of sexual partners also helps to lower one's exposure to HPV.

Avoid smoking

Smoking has been linked to many cancers, including cervical cancer. Encouraging a smoke-free lifestyle can not only prevent various health issues but also diminish the risk of cervical cancer.

Educational programs

In addition to educating oneself, it's also important to educate young girls about the dangers of cervical cancer. Promoting awareness through educational programs about the risks of cervical cancer, the importance of vaccination, and regular screenings are a few ways to help spread awareness and encourage preventive methods.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Adopt a healthy lifestyle which includes a balanced diet and regular exercise, while avoiding exposure to known carcinogens like alcohol and tobacco, can contribute to overall well-being and reduce the risk of various cancers.

Young girls must be aware of these signs, practice preventive measures, and prioritise regular health check-ups to detect and address any potential issues early on. Regular communication with healthcare providers is crucial for maintaining optimal reproductive health.

Inputs by Dr Teji Dawane, Senior Consultant, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Whitefield, Bengaluru, and Dr Sumanth Consultant Medical Oncologist CARE Hospitals Banjara Hills, Hyderabad

Also read: Here's why maintaining sexual hygiene is important and how can practice it

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