Cervical Cancer Awareness Month: Prevention and Early Detection

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, and it is a good time to learn more about this deadly yet preventable disease. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer of women in India, and it is the fourth most common cancer among women globally.[0] It is caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sexual activity.

Approximately 14 of the over 200 varieties of HPV are thought to be high risk for the potential development of cancer.[1] HPV can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, so the transmission does not require sexual intercourse.[2] Many women who are sexually active will experience the infection at least once in their lifetime, either with or without symptoms.[1] 90% of those who contract HPV will have their infection naturally clear, making it less likely to lead to cancer.[0]

Abnormal cell growth in the cervix can lead to cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower part of the uterus that joins with the vagina.[3] Cancer does not manifest itself instantaneously in the cells of the cervix.[2] If left untreated, these cells can gradually transform into dysplasia, an abnormal cell type, which can eventually lead to cancer.[2] It typically takes several years for this to be completed.[2]

Pap tests are essential for detecting HPV.[4] Screenings can also detect alterations in cervical cells which may indicate the potential development of cancer in the future. Women ages 21 to 65 should generally get a Pap test every three years.

The HPV vaccine aids in protecting people from contracting an HPV infection, and can also help prevent any HPV infection from developing into cancer. In addition to cervical cancer, HPV can also be responsible for throat cancer, mouth cancer, anal cancer, vaginal cancer, penile cancer, and vulvar cancer. The HPV vaccine also helps to prevent these cancers. The vaccine does not offer protection against any other sexually transmitted infections.[2]

The HPV vaccine serves as an effective protective measure, thwarting the emergence of cervical cancer. The extended period of natural history permits us to examine those patients infected with the HPV virus, leading to the early detection of cancer, thus establishing a secondary prevention program.[5]

Thanks to HPV vaccination, the prevalence of precancerous cervical lesions in young women has been reduced. Protection provided by the vaccine has resulted in a decrease in the amount of teens and young adults contracting genital warts.[3]

Since their introduction in the United States in 2006, HPV vaccinations have resulted in a decrease of HPV infections and precancerous cervical cells.

0. “Is Cervical Cancer Preventable? Experts Debunk Some Myths Around It” The Quint, 24 Jan. 2023, https://www.thequint.com/news/webqoof/cervical-cancer-awareness-month-myths-about-cervical-cancer-busted

1. “Cervical Cancer: How Unprotected Sex Can Increase The Risk? All You Need to Know” India.com, 23 Jan. 2023, https://www.india.com/health/cervical-cancer-how-unprotected-sex-can-increase-the-risk-all-you-need-to-know-5865917/

2. “5 common causes of cervical cancer and what you can do to lower your risk” KSL.com, 19 Jan. 2023, https://www.ksl.com/article/50558708/5-common-causes-of-cervical-cancer-and-what-you-can-do-to-lower-your-risk-

3. “Cervical cancer. Pap testing. HPV screenings. Early detection.” BlueRidgeNow.com, 21 Jan. 2023, https://www.blueridgenow.com/story/lifestyle/advice/2023/01/21/cervical-cancer-pap-testing-hpv-screenings-early-detection/69815895007/

4. “Knowledge Is One of the Best Weapons to Fight HPV” Giddy, 16 Jan. 2023, https://getmegiddy.com/hpv-prevalence-risks

5. “Cervical cancer: Know causative factors to prevent it early | Lifestyle Health | English Manorama” Onmanorama, 16 Jan. 2023, https://www.onmanorama.com/lifestyle/health/2023/01/16/cervical-cancer-causative-factors-preventive-methods.html