Cervical cancer: A preventable deadly cancer

Cervical cancer: A preventable deadly cancer

According to the World Health Organization, in 2020, cervical cancer is the 4th most common cancer found in women worldwide. We now know that the human papillomavirus or HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer.

All women who are married or sexually active are likely to be infected with HPV at some point in their lives. Most of the time, the immune system of the infected person can eliminate the virus without causing any symptoms or disease. But when some people may get reinfected or the virus has not been completely eliminated, the infection can develop into cervical cancer.

How many types of HPV are there?

There are more than 200 types of HPVs, which can be divided into 2 main groups:

• Low-risk HPVs: While most of these do not cause diseases, some may cause warts around the genitals, anus, mouth or throat.
• High-risk HPVs: About 16 types are considered to be in this groups, with HPV types 16 and 18 being responsible for most of HPV-related cancers.

How is the HPV transmitted?

About 85% of the infections are transmitted through sexual contacts, may it be vaginal, anal, or oral, possibly causing cervical, anal, and larynx cancers.  The other 15% can be transferred from virus-contaminated hands to a friable cervix or through cervical wounds.

What are the warning signs of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer often takes many years to develop and show symptoms. Patients often have symptoms when the cancer is already in stage 2 with the following symptoms:

• abnormal bleeding like after sexual intercourse, unusually heavy menstruation, longer than usual periods, and bleeding after menopause
• smelly whitish vaginal discharge due to inflammation or infection
• possibly with metastatic cancer, difficulty urinating, bloody urine, diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and abdominal/pelvic pain

Who is at risk?

Although the main cause of cervical cancer is HPV infection, other factors including the following can increase the risks of cervical cancer.

• Avoiding the yearly Pap smear along with cervical cancer screening
• Having unprotected sex or having multiple sexual partners
• Smoking
• A weak immune system such as HIV infection
• Long use of birth control pills
• Having had three or more pregnancies

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