What Is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer can be defined as cancer in the tissues of the cervix. Cervix is the part of the female reproductive system that connects the vagina to the uterus. It becomes important to prevent cervical cancer as it grows gradually and is not known to show noticeable symptoms like vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or pain during sex in the initial stages.1 Moreover, cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer experienced by women all around the world and had a significant mortality rate in 2020.2 

Cervical Cancer And HPV

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the main causes of cervical cancer worldwide. Over 9 out of 10 cases of cervical cancer happen to occur due to high-risk types of HPV.3 There are over 40 types of HPV which are known as “genital HPV”. They spread through skin-to-skin contact of the genital areas, especially during oral, anal, or vaginal sex. Out of these 40 different types, over 70% of HPV-related cervical cancers occur due to high-risk HPV types HPV-16 and HPV-18.4

The majority of HPV cases are asymptomatic so most women don’t experience any symptoms or warning signs at the onset of the infection.5 The absence of symptoms leads to an undetected infection. Undetected and untreated high-risk HPV infections may cause the growth of abnormal cancer cells. Regular HPV testing is the best way for a sexually active individual to stay on top of the situation.

That said, some of the low-risk HPV infections do show symptoms of genital warts (small bumps or growths on or around the genital region).6 In addition, symptoms of cervical cancer caused by genital HPV include vaginal bleeding or pain after intercourse and pelvic pain.7

4 Ways To Prevent Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer can easily be prevented if you take holistic preventative measures and become aware of the HPV infection from a young age. A multidisciplinary approach used to prevent cervical cancer includes elements like sufficient primary education in the community, awareness about risk factors, immunization through vaccines, regular screening, and access to treatment.

1. Quit Smoking

Staying away from risk factors like smoking can be a great start on the journey to prevent cervical cancer. The by-products of tobacco are evident in the cervical mucus of smoking women. They are twice as likely to get cervical cancer in comparison to women who don’t smoke.8

2. Avoid Long-Term Use Of Oral Contraceptives

Evidence suggests that amongst women infected by HPV those consuming birth control pills for long durations increase the risk of cervical cancer. Women who take oral contraceptives for over 10 years have 4 times higher chances of developing this cancer. However, if you stop taking these pills before reaching the 10-year threshold, the risk decreases significantly.9

3. Regular Screening

Once you turn 30, taking the HPV-DNA Test on a regular basis is the most effective strategy to prevent cervical cancer. This method is preferred over a pap smear (a test where your doctor collects cells from your cervix and examines them under the microscope in their lab for signs of cervical cancer).10 That’s because while the pap smear includes a visual inspection of your cells it might not always be adequate to provide solid answers about high-risk HPV infections. The HPV-DNA Test provides objective results leaving no scope for uncertainty or confusion.11

WHO has proposed a preventative strategy to eliminate cervical cancer across the globe. This plan calls for over 70% of women around the world to be screened with an HPV-DNA test by the age of 35 and then again before they turn 45 years old.12

HPV DNA Tests can even be conducted from the comfort and convenience of your home with LifeCell self-collection test kits. You can collect the vaginal swab with the help of detailed instructions and get confirmatory results within 2 days.  “LifeCell’s HPV Test - Female” screens for 24 high-risk genotypes that could result in cervical cancer using PCR technology. You get the results via a comprehensive report and in case the tests identify high-risk HPV infection you can avail the right treatment at an early stage in consultation with your clinician.

4. HPV Vaccination

Currently, there are four vaccines that act as a precaution against HPV 16 and 18 infections. High-grade precancerous lesions, aggressive malignancy, and infections with HPV are all prevented by HPV vaccines, according to clinical studies and post-marketing surveillance.2

The most effective timing for HPV vaccinations is before you are exposed to the virus through any kind of sexual activity. As a result, the WHO suggests immunizing girls between the ages of 9 and 14 to prevent cervical cancer.2 

Cervical cancer screening is not replaced by HPV vaccination as the vaccine cannot protect against all HPV types. So the cervical screening regimen remains the same for vaccinated women as well.13 Punctual screening will help detect and treat cervical pre-cancer and cancer and lower the incidence and mortality rates from the disease.

In A Nutshell

It is important for women to stay on top of their reproductive health. Regular pap smears have been the holy grail of inspecting the health of the cells in the vagina and cervix. However, modern and progressive HPV DNA tests are more sensitive and have been recommended alongside the standard pap smears for women.

These tests are more specific and can distinguish high-risk HPV infections from low-risk ones. They significantly enhance treatment and follow-up for infected patients and are definitely worth considering. The improvement of diagnostic precision and reduction of needless colposcopy (invasive exam of the cervix, vagina, and vulva) in individuals with borderline or mildly abnormal pap smear test results is the purpose of HPV DNA testing.14

References:

  1. https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/cervical-cancer 
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cervical-cancer 
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/hpv/parents/cancer.html 
  4. https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/prevention-and-healthy-living/hpv-and-cancer 
  5. https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/hpv.pdf 
  6. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/4209-genital-warts 
  7. https://www.mountsinai.org/care/cancer/services/gynecologic/conditions/cervical/myths-facts 
  8. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html 
  9. https://www.cancer.gov/types/cervical/patient/cervical-prevention-pdq 
  10. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/pap-smear/ 
  11. https://www.who.int/news/item/06-07-2021-new-recommendations-for-screening-and-treatment-to-prevent-cervical-cancer 
  12. https://www.who.int/initiatives/cervical-cancer-elimination-initiative 
  13. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-vaccine-fact-sheet 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC145302/ 

References